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Poland Maintains Restrictions On Access To Border With Belarus

Migrants protest outside a transport and logistics center on the Belarusian side of the border with Poland on November 25.
Migrants protest outside a transport and logistics center on the Belarusian side of the border with Poland on November 25.

Poland has extended a controversial state of emergency that allows the government to continue restricting access to its border with Belarus to everyone except people who live, work, or study in the designated zone.

The Interior Ministry announced implementation of the restrictions on November 30 after the Sejm, the lower house of parliament, voted to amend the border law amid a migrant crisis between Poland and Belarus.

The state of emergency allows the Interior Ministry to bar all nonresidents, including journalists and NGOs, from the border area, where thousands of migrants, mainly from Middle Eastern countries, have been blocked from entering the European Union.

The EU has accused Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime of orchestrating the crisis, which Minsk denies.

Poland's conservative-controlled Sejm rejected Senate amendments that would have allowed journalists to travel to the Polish side of the border to report on the situation and verify or dispute the accounts from Belarus.

After the amendments were rejected, President Andrzej Duda quickly signed the new measures into law, allowing Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski to ban access to parts of the border area depending on the situation.

Under the new regulations, journalists must obtain permission from the head of the border guard to work from the border area.

The ban takes effect on December 1 and can last for up to three months. The current measures started in September and had been due to expire soon.

The Polish opposition and human rights organizations say the emergency measures give the Interior Ministry too much power and are unconstitutional.

But the Polish government argued that banning most individuals from the no-access zone would help guards perform their jobs better, especially after some of the migrants attempted to enter Poland illegally.

Poland has taken other steps in response to the migrant crisis, including building a barbed wire fence and massing thousands of soldiers along its 400-kilometer border with Belarus.

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

Thousands of migrants remain massed in camps on the Belarusian side of the border. As many as 13 have died since the crisis began.

Human Rights Watch last week said that both Belarus and Poland have an obligation to prevent further deaths by ensuring regular humanitarian access to people stuck in the border area.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa
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