Poland’s Hostility to Refugees

For those fleeing ISIS, north has been the simplest path, with many members of the European Union accepting refugees with open arms. Not everyone in the EU welcomes the mass migration, however. On Saturday, February 6, anti-refugee protestors marched in cities throughout the EU to protest allowing refugees into their nations.

In Warsaw, Poland, 1,500 protestors gathered in the Castle Square in Old Town. The rally, organized by supporters of the country’s far-right government, was a show of support for the government’s plan for handling the refugee crisis. While neighboring Germany took in 1.1 million refugees in 2015, and plans to take in at least that number in 2016, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo has declared that Poland will accept no more than 400 refugees in 2016.

While the previous party in power declared that Poland would accept at least 7,000 refugees, the Law and Justice Party swiftly reversed its predecessor’s decision, deviating from the plans of the EU.

Poland faces a problem due to its refusal to accept refugees as an EU state. One does not need a passport to travel within the EU, making it easy for individuals to enter Poland without detection. Upwards of 55,000 refugees have already crossed into the EU since the start of 2016. Poland’s refusal to accept refugees in numbers as great as its neighbors has caused great tensions within the EU.

The Law and Justice Party is unyielding in its policies, and with its swift grabbing of power, many worry that Poland’s status as a bastion of democratic power in Eastern Europe may quickly wane. Between its grabs for power in the Supreme Court, acquisition and limitation of speech on public radio, and increase of government surveillance capabilities, many see the new far-right government as anti-democratic.

Nevertheless, at least half the country supports Poland’s anti-refugee declarations. In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris in 2015, Prime Minister Szydlo has said she will not jeopardize the safety of her country’s citizens to accept the EU’s quota of 4,500 refugees. The nation, which is 88% Catholic, is largely hostile to immigrants, particularly Muslims.

Prejudice aside, many argue that Poland’s economy is not equipped to handle mass immigration. While Poland has the 6th largest economy in the EU and the 20th largest economy in the world, the average salary in Poland is 42,360.01 złoty (pronounced zwoty), or less than $11,000 per year.

The Polish government allots to each refugee only 70 złoty per month, essentially pocket change. One can easily 70 spend złoty in a single day, with meals costing on average over 20 złoty. The Law and Justice Party makes it deliberately difficult refugees to integrate into the economy.

“This is not a country for refugees,” a Chechen refugee told APF, a French news agency, “When we’re at the store, people give us dirty looks. Some insult us, treat us like dirty foreigners. That wasn’t the case two years ago.”

The new government in particular has perpetuated the fear of refugees. Since acquiring an overwhelming majority in the last election, during which fewer than 25% of the eligible voting population turned out, the Law and Justice Party has passed measure after measure to ensure its anti-refugee policies get enacted.

Without a large enough coalition to stop Law and Justice, the opposition, composed of largely center-right politicians, can do nothing but sit and watch their nation slip from their grasps.