A Polish Wall:Safety or Intolerance?
In mid-january, Poland has started building a wall along its frontier with Belarus aimed at preventing asylum seekers (called “illegal migrants”) from entering the country. The barrier would reach up to 5.5m and measure 186km, almost half the length of the border shared by this two countries and It will be equipped with thermal cameras and motion detectors.
The project cost estimate is approximately 10 times the whole budget of Poland’s migration department this year. Polish border guard already stated that it will be “the largest construction investment in the history of the border guard.” Proud? Thinking about it, around €353 milion could be used to build and create an effective asylum and migration policy, protecting social vulnerability and human dignity, enforcing and respecting international human rights, namily that All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights (article one of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights).
In September, Poland imposed a state of emergency at its border, restricting access to the area to journalists, reporters and NGOs, weakening oversight of the unfolding crisis. Poland’ Supreme Court condemned the government. Judges said the ban was incompatible with Polish law – constitution guarantees “freedom of movement” and “freedom to collect and disseminate information” – and that “there is no justification for admitting that this particular professional group represents a threat to steps taken”. Poland’s Court also stated that it opposed “any restrictions on the protection of human dignity, life, and humanitarian treatment”.
Meanwhile, NGOs and humanitarian activists had also condemned Poland for preventing aid from reaching migrants who were trapped between the two countries during the winter, when temperatures could be fatal. Moreover, environmentalists have already warned that this wall will be constructed along a great extension of a protected forest and UNESCO world heritage site. That is, this project not only violates a range of rights, but also makes the concept of “protected area” useless.
In fact, this is not a brand new ideia: It is like a poisoned gift from US, an USA-Mexico Wall 2.0. And this non-migration policies development can seem very daunting if we think about a technological future with artificial intelligence.
Actually, after the construction of American Wall, several enterprises and start ups started to work on “Virtual Walls”, resorting to surveillance technologies and sound and movement detectors, developed by highly advanced computer systems, such as drones, electronic devices that can detect heart beats and biometric systems facilities.
Defended by Biden, the boundaries – in that case, legal and political boundaries – become really tenuous. The use of this invasive technology has been reported in several frontiers, leading to the fact that there is now another (un)protected legal good: privacy and intimacy. Is the safeguarding of the right to image, privacy, and the right to speak sufficient? Note that article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Politics Rights provides that No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy.
What is the European Union’s position on this project?
In November 2021, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, admitted the possibility of “financing a physical infrastructure” in order to “better protect the European Union’s border”, after the Polish government asked Brussels for help in implementing the project.
After talks, Poland rejected the proposal to involve the European Agency Frontex in border surveillance and passed a bill allowing illegal migrants to be returned directly to their country of origin without waiting for them to apply for asylum. To what extent is this law consistent with the values that the EU says are shared by all Member States, laid out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union? The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, (…) society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity (…). Moreover, it seems that basic fundamental principles of international protection, namely the non-refoulement principle provided in general in Article 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU and, in the context of refugees, in Article 33 of the Geneva Convention, fall by the wayside.
The support of all the other EU member states for Poland is particularly striking as the EU is running a parallel battle with the Polish government about the supremacy of EU law over the national law, and about the independence of Polish judiciary. On the other hand, along with Germany, United Kingdom has already shown its solidarity with Poland, providing army engineers and troops in order to help in that border crisis. The interest behind this willingness is questionable, especially if we take into consideration the severance of relations caused by Brexit and the crisis itself in British migration policy.
The EU accuses the Belarusian regime of being to blame for this situation at the border, where hundreds of migrants have been gathering for months, living in the hope of crossing into Poland.
Is the European Union really that safe?
This question gains new meanings in the last few days, as Russia invades Ukraine. Poland’s village of Medyka has been one of the main escape doors for Ukrainians fleeing the war. Given the country’s latest migration policies, how will Poland treat its neighbouring refugees? The future of the growing tens of thousands of people waiting at the border remains unclear.