Poland braces for influx from Belarus after crackdown

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland is bracing for an influx of people from neighbouring Belarus after a violent crackdown on post-election protests there but wants to maintain border security, deputy foreign minister Marcin Przydacz said on Friday.

The protests in Belarus pose the biggest challenge yet to strongman President Alexander Lukashenko’s 26-year rule. The protesters accuse Lukashenko of rigging last Sunday’s presidential election to win a sixth term.

“We have already reviewed the law, so as to also be prepared for a possible wave of people who want to get to the territory of the EU,” Przydacz told the Catholic radio station Siodma9.

“You need to consider support for people who need to pass the border quickly, but we must be responsible for our European partners, that is, the Schengen border.”

He gave no details. Because Poland belongs to the European Union’s Schengen area, anyone who enters legally from Belarus can travel freely within the other 25 Schengen countries.

EU foreign ministers will on Friday discuss their response to the crackdown, and diplomats and officials say new sanctions are likely to be imposed later this month.

Andrej Babis, prime minister of the Czech Republic, Poland’s southwestern neighbour, said on Friday that Belarus must rerun its election with foreign observers present.

Polish President’s Andrzej Duda’s top aide Andrzej Dera made a similar demand.

“If Belarus wants to move towards democracy, these elections should be repeated,” Dera told the private broadcaster TVN24, according to the state news agency PAP.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is due to publish a plan on Friday to help Belarus, whose 9.5 million people include between 300,000 and 1.2 million of Polish origin, according to different estimates.

Poland’s conservative-nationalist government has in the past argued that security concerns required it to prevent refugees entering.

Critics say it has shirked its humanitarian responsibilities, exploiting anti-migrant European feeling and pandering to populist sentiment.

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