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Migrants as leverage: "The pictures on the Polish border are already being instrumentalized"

Heiko Teggatz, chairman of the Federal Police Union, calls for temporary controls at the German-Polish border. The reason is the wave of migration triggered by the Belarusian head of state Lukashenko. How does he assess the situation in Poland - and the behavior of Germany and the EU? Tichys Einblick (TE) spoke to Polish journalist Aleksandra Rybińska.

Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has announced closer cooperation between Germany and Poland. The reason for this is the new migration route that has formed via Belarus to Europe and that is putting the EU's external border under pressure. In Belarus there is a “state-organized or at least state-supported smuggling activity”. Head of state Alexander Lukashenko is making use of a form of “hybrid threat” by using migrants as a political weapon. The Minister of the Interior promised more joint patrols on the German-Polish border. The cross-border commuters should be identified and crimes related to migration should be exposed. Seehofer wrote a letter to his Polish counterpart Mariusz Kamiński.

Seehofer also responded to a letter from the chairman of the Federal Police Union, Heiko Teggatz. Teggatz had called for "temporary controls" on the German-Polish border on Monday. This is the only way to prevent a “collapse” like 2015. The number of apprehensions at the border rose “explosively”. Previously, several EU member states had called for "physical barriers" at the EU's external border due to increasing illegal immigration. The warning of hybrid attacks by a third country also appeared in it. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned on Monday, given the Belarusian model of issuing generous visas to migrants and flying them to Minsk by state line: "We are no longer ready to see that there are also companies such as airlines that also earn money with them." Maas called for further sanctions. Lukashenko is "nothing more than the head of a state smuggling ring".

In a conversation with the Phoenix news broadcaster, Teggatz emphasized that no one would be turned back at temporary border controls. Anyone who requests protection during stationary border controls will "of course be treated according to the rule of law" and taken to a reception center. The advantage lies in the acquisition. In the subsequent procedure, it could be pointed out that the arrested person had entered from a safe third country. Seehofer confirmed this approach at the press conference on Wednesday. Additional sanctions against Minsk are also being considered. A common solution is only possible with the EU.

TE spoke to the prominent Polish journalist Aleksandra Rybińska about this. The qualified political scientist is an expert at the Polish think tank "Warsaw Institute" and reports for the news portal wPolityce, the news channel WPolsce and the weekly magazine Tygodnik Sieci, among others. In the past, the conservative journalist was the contact person and talk guest on various German programs and was considered the Polish voice on German television until she fell out of favor with her criticism of Angela Merkel and German migration policy.

TE: How do you in Poland perceive Germany's previous lack of interest in this matter?

Aleksandra Rybińska: You can't really talk about disinterest. At least at this point. The number of migrants arriving in Germany has increased so much that the German government obviously no longer has a choice and has to act. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has announced that he wants to work with Poland on border protection. How this should look in practice is not yet entirely clear. We just know that the common stripes are to be reinforced. Border controls at the German-Polish border are still not supposed to exist.

Lukashenko tries to put pressure on the East Central European countries and the EU as a whole with his “smuggling policy”. How much success is he having with it? And how well can Poland protect its border?

I cannot speak for all of the East Central European countries because I do not know the domestic political situation there well enough. But in the case of Poland this strategy is quite successful. Since the beginning of the crisis on the border, there has been a dispute in Polish politics over how to deal with migrants. The Polish opposition tries to make political profit from the situation and accuses the government of Law and Justice of a “lack of humanism”, the left-liberal Gazeta Wyborcza Adopts the Belarusian propaganda uncritically accusing the Polish government of illegally "pushing" migrants back across the border (illegal pushbacks) or even freezing them to death in the border strip, even though the migrants are on the Belarusian side and the Polish border guards have no access at all to these people. Lukashenko also did not allow a Polish aid convoy with food and other goods for the migrants into the country. In short: Left and liberal opposition politicians have organized such a circus in the border strip (running around with pizza and sleeping bags, attempts to illegally cross the border into Belarus, fleeing from border guards who chased them across the meadows) that the government has to introduce a state of emergency on the border. In addition, there are left activists from organizations that deal with "refugee aid" and distribute fake news, so that a normal debate on the subject is no longer possible. So if Lukashenko was concerned with internal destabilization, he has achieved his goal, at least in part. Thanks to the useful idiots of our opposition.

The Polish-Belarusian border is almost 400 km long and it is impossible to completely monitor it. These are dense forests, swamps, difficult terrain. The Polish government plans to build a reinforced border fence. So far there is low barbed wire (130 km long), which can be easily overcome, and 2.5 meter high barriers (fence) with additional three layers of barbed wire (concertina), 90 km in length. Construction began at the end of August. The new border fence will cost around 2 billion zlotys. First 150 km of fence are to be built and then 97 km in a second phase. Reinforced with barbed wire.

The Polish border guard is supported by around 2,000 soldiers from the army. The Frontex agency, although it is based in Warsaw, has no officials of its own to send to the border. According to our government, Frontex will not be fully operational until 2027 and is currently under construction. So if they wanted to help, they would have to call on border guards from other European countries.

In a letter to the EU Commission, several EU member states called for “physical borders” at the common external border, which should also be financed by the EU.

Poland can definitely afford to erect a border fence from its own resources. There are parties in Poland like the Peasants' Party (PSL) who believe that Brussels should help build such a border fence and also finance it, but as far as I know there are no such plans. On the other hand, we have many expressions of solidarity, from the EU Commission and the EU Parliament, among others.

What role do the tensions between Poland and the EU play in this conflict? Do you fear that the media might exploit the “unsightly pictures” on the Polish-Belarusian border?

The images are already being used as an instrument, in a similar way to the 2015 refugee crisis. Fake news are making the rounds, with false photos showing, for example, Bosnian children from times of war in former Yugoslavia. “Activists” travel to “refugee shelters” on the border, where they throw candy over the fence to children and film it. It is completely ignored that the migrants often paid thousands of euros to travel to Belarus, were carted to the border by buses and all of them received a residence visa from Lukashenka. In the last few days Lukashenko has even deported a few hundred again - the number should remain manageable and controllable. At the moment there are still around 15,000 migrants in Belarus, almost all of whom want to go to Germany. Poland is criticized, even attacked, by the European press, with the argument that the “right-wing national” government would not take care of the migrants (that is not true, everyone who was apprehended in Poland was taken to shelters and cared for) whose fate they don't care about. Similar arguments also come from the EU Commission.

Can the influx be expected to subside with winter, similar to the Mediterranean route?

Yes and no. There have already been a few deaths in the border strip on the Belarusian side and this was exploited by the regime in Minsk for propaganda purposes. I'm sure Lukashenko wouldn't mind a few more deaths. That would increase the pressure on Warsaw and thus on the EU. The Belarusian dictator doesn't care about these people, they are instrumentalized for his political goals. By the way, some of them come directly from Russia, where they lived before. In this case, I am absolutely certain that Moscow will also be behind Minsk. It is a hybrid war that is being waged, and even if the number of migrants falls in winter, Minsk will try to keep up the pressure, even if it costs lives. On the one hand migrants, on the other hand a radical increase in the price of gas before winter - that is certainly no coincidence. The pressure comes from Minsk and Moscow, and Europe in its stupidity (Nord Stream 2) is paying the price.

Thank you for the interview.

Photo: IMAGO / NurPhoto
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