Poland restricts access to area bordering Belarus till March

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski on Tuesday applied freshly adopted regulations and declared an area along the nation’s border with Belarus off-limits to everyone except residents and people who live, work or study in the designated no-access zone.

Earlier Tuesday, the lower house of parliament, or Sejm, voted to amend the border law amid a conflict between Poland and Belarus. The president immediately approved the amended law, allowing for its implementation. The ban takes effect Wednesday for three months.

In adopting the amendments to the law on Poland’s borders, the Sejm rejected changes proposed in the Senate, including one that would have allowed journalists free access in the restricted areas.

Under the new regulations, journalists need permission from the head of the Border Guard to work from the border area.

The law was updated in an urgent procedure amid a conflict between Poland and neighboring Belarus. Poland’s government and the European Union have accused authorities in Belarus of directing thousands of migrants and refugees from the Middle East to Poland’s eastern border, which is also the EU’s eastern border.

A state of emergency introduced along the Poland-Belarus border in September, that banned non-residents, expires on Thursday. The regulations approved Tuesday replace it and provide a measure for a long-term access ban.

President Andrzej Duda signed the regulations into law late Tuesday, allowing for their swift publication and implementation.

Members of Poland’s right-wing governing coalition dominate the Sejm, which voted to give the interior minister the power to designate 15-kilometer (9-mile) wide no-access strips for security reasons on recommendation from the head of the national Border Guard agency.

Senators wanted journalists allowed into the area along the border with Belarus so they could report firsthand on the situation there and verify or dispute the accounts from Belarus, which allows reporters on its side of the border.

The Polish government argued that banning most individuals from border areas would help guards perform their jobs better, especially as Europe-bound refugees and migrants attempt to enter Poland illegally during the current standoff with Belarus.

The Interior Ministry said the no-access designation also would facilitate construction, scheduled to start in early December, of a 5.5 -meter-tall (18-foot-tall) barrier on the border with Belarus.

Some law experts described the amendments as anti-democratic because they allow the interior minister to act without seeking parliamentary approval.


Follow AP’s coverage of migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration