Poland referendum to ask if voters want 'thousands of illegal immigrants'

Polish government wants to hold the referendum alongside an upcoming parliamentary election

Soldiers install barbed wire along the Polish border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, north-eastern Poland. EPA
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Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced plans for a referendum on Sunday to ask voters if they will accept “thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa” as part of a European Union relocation plan.

As Mr Morawiecki and his conservative party seeks to hold on to power in an October parliamentary election, he asked the referendum question in a video published on social media.

It indicated that his party, Law and Justice, is seeking to use migration in its election campaign, a tactic that helped it take power in 2015.

Poland currently hosts more than a million Ukrainian refugees, who are primarily white and Christian, but officials have long made clear that they consider Muslims and others from different cultures to be a threat to the nation’s cultural identity and security.

EU interior ministers in June endorsed a plan to share responsibility for migrants entering Europe without authorisation, the root of one of the bloc’s longest-running political crises.

The Polish government wants to hold the referendum alongside the parliamentary election, scheduled for October 15.

Mr Morawiecki said that the question would say: “Do you support the admission of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa under the forced relocation mechanism imposed by the European bureaucracy?”

The video announcing the question includes scenes of burning cars and other street violence in Western Europe.

A black man licks a huge knife in apparent anticipation of committing a crime.

Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski then says: “Do you want this to happen in Poland as well? Do you want to cease being masters of your own country?”

Migrants gather at the Belarus-Poland border – in pictures

An opposition politician, Robert Biedron, reacted by saying the migration question is pointless because participation in the EU mechanism is not mandatory and can be replaced by other forms of shared responsibility, while Poland itself could be eligible for support or for a waiver of its contribution due to the high number of Ukrainian refugees.

Mr Biedron, a European Parliament member for the Left party, posted on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, a letter from EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.

In it, she sets out the terms of the relocation mechanism and the grounds for seeking an exemption.

Leaders have announced two other questions in recent days.

One will ask voters for their views on privatising state-owned enterprises and the other will ask if they support raising the retirement age, which Law and Justice lowered to 60 for women and 65 for men.

The questions are set up to depict the opposition party, Civic Platform, as a threat to the interests of Poles.

The pro-business and pro-EU party, which governed from 2007 to 2015, raised the retirement age during its time in power, favoured some privatisation and signalled a willingness to accept a few thousand refugees before it lost power.

The video takes aim directly at Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk, a former president of the European Council.

“Tusk is the greatest threat to our security, he is the greatest threat to Poland’s security,” Mr Morawiecki says.

“Let’s not let Tusk – as an envoy of the Brussels elites – demolish security in Poland.”

Europe’s asylum system collapsed eight years ago after well over a million people entered the bloc – most of them fleeing conflict in Syria – and overwhelmed reception capacities in Greece and Italy, in the process sparking one of the EU’s biggest political crises.

The 27 EU nations have bickered ever since over which countries should take responsibility for people arriving without authorisation, and whether other members should be obliged to help them cope.

Initially Poland was neither an entry country nor a destination country for migrants and refugees.

It became a front-line state two years ago when migrants began crossing from Belarus, something European authorities view as an effort by the Russian ally to generate turmoil in Poland and other European countries.

Poland responded by building a large wall on its border.

It has recently increased its military presence on the border fearing an sharp rise in migration and other possible instability.

As well as disagreements over migration, Law and Justice has long been in conflict with the EU over a perception by the bloc that the Warsaw government has been eroding democratic norms.

Updated: August 14, 2023, 6:42 AM