“A great emigration necessarily implies unhappiness of some kind or other in the country that is deserted.” The words of economist Thomas Malthus which ring as true today – perhaps even more loudly – as they did in the nineteenth century. But unhappiness or not, Poland is standing firm in its resistance to relocating those emigrating from the unhappy parts of the Middle East and Africa. Poland has not accepted any such refugees as part of an EU programme to relocate them from camps in Italy and Greece.
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło has denied that this refusal means that Poland is not solidary with its EU partners, adding that the country is not alone in failing to relocate migrants. In September 2015, EU leaders agreed to relocate some 160,000 migrants out of more tham two million who have arrived in Europe since 2015 but, as Szydło told the Belgian Le Soir, European Union countries have accepted only 20,000 people so far.
She added that relocating so few people was not a solution to the problem. Poland was supporting those in need by increasing humanitarian aid to the victims of the war in Syria by working with aid organisations to rebuild hospitals. Szydło said that this form of help in was cheaper and more effective, and that EU migration policy was not halting further waves of migrants to Europe. For good measure, she added that migrants were not interested in staying in Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic but would head for richer countries.
This has cut little ice with the EU Commission which last week launched procedures against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic over “non-compliance with their obligations under the 2015 Council Decisions on relocation” of migrants. This likely to do little to improve EU-Poland relations coming on top of the concerns – vigorously denied by the Polish government – about the state of the rule of law in Poland.
The Commission will now send Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary an official letter asking them to accept the quotas of migrants allocated to them. If there is no reply or it judges the response inadequate, the Commission will send a second letter, following which the Commission may file a case to the EU Court of Justice. However, the EU Brussels can only apply for sanctions to be imposed when a country ignores a ruling by the judges in Luxembourg, so the whole process could take years.
For his part, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski has said the EU “made the wrong decision” in 2015 when it qualified thousands of immigrants as “refugees”. “Most of [these people] are not refugees, only immigrants who have illegally come into Europe.” In a separate interview published on Wednesday, Waszczykowski said that Poland is open to immigration and that “We accept hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Ukraine.”
Be that as it may, one might have hoped for a more charitable response from the Polish government, especially from a governing party which sets such store by its support for the Church, which has itself reminded the government of its Christian duty in this regard, and from a country whose citizens have been quite happy to emigrate given the chance. And while it is understandable that, given its history of foreign occupation, Poland might wish to take a more cautious line, a blanket refusal to help is not wholly compatible with EU solidarity from which Poland has benefitted greatly in recent years.
The real difficulty is that number of problems have become mixed together. First, those fleeing one or more of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, who clearly need our help. Second, those who are simply seeking better a life, a way of earning their living which their home countries cannot provide, and who pose no danger. Third, the fear of militant Islamicism and the suspicion that terrorists are posing as refugees to enter Europe. Far easier, in these circumstances to say no to everybody. And, even if it pointed out that more often than not the terrorist attacks are by nationals not immigrants, this is merely seen as a warning against the long term effects of the large scale immigration of the kind seen in the UK and France.
It should be possible to distinguish between each group and deal with them accordingly a point made by Poland’s deputy Defence Minister Michał Dworczyk who said last week, “Until we have a mechanism to verify people who can settle in Poland, we will not accept them.” “In some cases, we are unable to verify who these people are and what their intentions are. And if there is a shadow of a doubt, it is the duty of every state, including Poland, to ensure the safety of its citizens,” he added. And in alignment with Hungary and Czech, this latter day figurative Jan Sobieski at the gates of Vienna approach fits well with how the government sees its role in Europe and is unlikely to be abandoned soon.