Poland limits on access to Belarus border as migrant crisis simmers - Metro US

Poland limits on access to Belarus border as migrant crisis simmers

FILE PHOTO: Lithuania's Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite visits Lithuania-Poland-Belarus border point

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland can limit the access of NGOs and journalists to its border with Belarus, after lawmakers rejected amendments to a law that will come into force when a state of emergency over a surge in migrants trying to cross the frontier expires.

Under the state of emergency declared in the border region in September, the media and aid charities were banned. The opposition said the ban was intended to cover up rights abuses and had sought unfettered access.

Under the new rules, the interior minister will be able implement limits on access to the border zone after consulting with the head of the Border Guard. However, journalists and NGOs may be able to enter at the discretion of local Border Guard heads.

The state of emergency, which was extended to its maximum duration of three months, ends at midnight.

The government said the restrictions were necessary for security reasons and to stop any escalation of a standoff regional powers have said risks a military conflict.

The European Union accuses Minsk of engineering the migrant crisis to hit back at sanctions. Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko accuses the EU of deliberately provoking a humanitarian crisis.

On Friday the upper house of parliament, the Senate, voted in favour of amendments that would have allowed journalists and humanitarian aid workers unlimited access to the exclusion zone next the border, but these were rejected by the lower house.

Poland’s Human Rights Ombudsman has criticised the new law, saying it gives the interior minister the right to limit freedom of movement and to limit access to information about what is happening on the border indefinitely.

While the situation on the border has calmed since mid-November, when Polish security forces fired water cannon at migrants throwing rocks, there are still nightly attempts by groups to force through barbed wire fencing on the frontier.

The Polish Border Guard said there were 134 attempts to cross the Belarus border on Monday.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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