WARSAW – Poland’s president on Thursday threw his support behind a government decision to renege on a deal to accept thousands of refugees, blaming security concerns raised by Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels.
The move could prompt similar decisions by other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, many of which have protested — or, like Hungary and Slovakia, sued over — the European Union’s plan to divide up some 120,000 refugees among member countries.
The plan is part of efforts to help alleviate Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis, which has seen hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa arrive on the continent in recent months.
Opponents of migration have warned that extremists could slip in along with the flood of refugees making their way to the continent. However, the suicide-bombers in the attacks in Brussels, brothers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui, were Belgian-born.
Poland’s decision could also negatively affect a deal European leaders struck last week with Turkey that is aimed at limiting the influx of migrants to Europe and better ensuring that those who arrive really might be entitled to asylum because of danger in their countries, rather than people looking for better economic opportunities.
Poland’s conservative, anti-migrant government had grudgingly confirmed the previous government’s commitment to take in 7,000 refugees from Syria and Eritrea over the next two years. At the same time, sensing general uncertainty about receiving migrants into a mostly homogenous nation, the officials stressed that permissions to settle would be preceded by meticulous security and identity checks.
But following the Brussels attacks, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said, “I see no possibility for migrants to come to Poland now.”
On Thursday, the spokesman for Polish President Andrzej Duda confirmed that decision and said Europe has failed to build an efficient system of checking new arrivals to make sure they don’t pose a security risk.
“The prime minister is right when she says that without an efficient system of hot spots … no country, neither Poland, nor Spain or Germany or Austria, is able to fully control this problem,” said spokesman Marek Magierowski.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that decisions about who should be let in should be made by each country, not by Brussels, which he accuses of “stealthily” seeking to expand its powers at the expense of national sovereignty.
The Czech Republic has committed to receive some 2,800 migrants.
Poland has not been on the route migrants take from Turkey to Greece and then through the Balkans to Western Europe, but it is especially focused on security ahead of two major international events it will host in July: a NATO summit and Pope Francis’ meeting with hundreds of thousands of Catholic youths.
On Thursday, the interior minister and the coordinator of security services presented draft legislation expected to take effect in May that will allow for close surveillance, 14-day detention and summary expulsions of foreigners suspected of being threats to security. Poland’s borders could be temporarily closed and mass events canceled in case of threat, Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said.