Poland’s interior minister said on Monday material related to Islamic extremism had been found in the phones of migrants crossing its border with Belarus and he called for a 60-day extension to a state of emergency along the frontier.
The European Union member state declared the emergency at the start of September over a surge in migration that Polish and EU officials blame on Belarus. But Poland’s nationalist government has drawn criticism from rights groups over its treatment of migrants, five of whom have died on the frontier.
“(The situation is) extremely tense…I will apply to the Council of Ministers (cabinet) for an extension of the state of emergency by 60 days,” Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski told a news conference.
During the briefing Polish officials showed material which they said were text messages and other images linked to Islamic extremism found on some of the migrants’ electronic devices.
Reuters could not independently confirm the veracity of the messages or images.
Poland’s opposition and human rights groups have accused the ruling right-wing nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party in the past of stoking prejudice against immigrants for political gain.
During the 2015 migrant crisis, the PiS leader said refugees from the Middle East could bring disease and parasites to Poland.
Most of the current migrants come from Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa.
On Monday, Kaminski said the government was not trying to stigmatize migrants but simply present evidence it had uncovered to show that some migrants crossing the border could pose a threat to national security.
He said Polish security services found links to extremism in 50 of the 200 migrants interviewed.
Piotr Bystrianin of the Ocalenie Foundation refugee aid charity said the minister had shown no evidence that any of the migrants posed a security threat.
“The aim was precisely to stigmatize these people, to arouse fear and to try to find pseudo-reasons for maintaining the state of emergency. It’s pure propaganda, turning people against refugees like in 2015… ”, he declared.
Poland and the EU have accused Belarus of encouraging migrants from Iraq, Afghanistan and African countries to cross the EU’s external borders to pressure the bloc over sanctions that Brussels has imposed on Minsk for rights violations.
However, the European Commission and rights groups fear that Poland will force border migrants back to Belarus, violating their right to seek asylum and putting them further at risk.