Warsaw, Poland – With less than three weeks to go before the general election on October 15, migration has emerged as the main issue dividing the political parties and the public opinion in Poland.
The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and its far-right ally, the Confederation, have been using anti-migrant rhetoric to rally their conservative and nationalist base, portraying non-European refugees and migrants as a threat to Poland’s security, culture and identity.
The PiS government has also been engaged in a standoff with the European Union over its refusal to accept any refugees under the bloc’s quota system, and its construction of a metal fence along its border with Belarus to prevent asylum seekers from entering the country.
The opposition parties, however, have not been able to present a clear and coherent alternative to the PiS’s hardline stance on migration. Some of them, such as the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People’s Party (PSL), have tried to appeal to the moderate and pro-European voters by expressing solidarity with the refugees and criticizing the PiS’s violation of human rights and international law.
Others, such as the Left coalition and the Poland 2050 movement, have adopted a more pragmatic and nuanced approach, acknowledging the need for a controlled and humane migration policy that balances Poland’s obligations towards the EU and its own national interests.
The migration debate in Poland has been influenced by two different refugee crises that have unfolded on its eastern borders in the past three years. The first one began in October 2021, when thousands of refugees and migrants, mainly from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, started to arrive at the border with Belarus, allegedly encouraged by the Belarusian regime as a way of putting pressure on Poland and the EU.
The second one began in February 2022, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, triggering a massive exodus of Ukrainian refugees into Poland. Poland has a long history of cultural and economic ties with Ukraine, and has been one of its staunchest supporters in its conflict with Russia.
While the PiS and the Confederation have tried to exploit both crises to fuel anti-migrant sentiment among their voters, they have also faced some criticism for their inconsistent and contradictory attitudes towards different groups of refugees. While they have rejected any non-European refugees as “illegal immigrants” or “potential terrorists”, they have welcomed Ukrainian refugees as “brothers” or “guests”.
However, some right-wing politicians have also started to express anti-Ukrainian views in recent months, accusing them of taking jobs away from Poles, or of being disloyal to Poland. Some Ukrainian refugees have also reported facing discrimination and harassment in Poland.
The public opinion in Poland is also divided over the issue of migration. According to a recent survey by CBOS, a public opinion research center, 49 percent of Poles are against accepting any refugees from outside Europe, while 44 percent are in favor. However, 74 percent of Poles are in favor of accepting Ukrainian refugees, while only 19 percent are against.
The survey also shows that migration is one of the most important factors influencing the voting preferences of Poles. Among those who support the PiS or the Confederation, 71 percent and 79 percent respectively say that migration is very important for their choice. Among those who support the PO or the PSL, 45 percent and 44 percent respectively say the same. Among those who support the Left or Poland 2050, 37 percent and 36 percent respectively say so.
As the election day approaches, it remains to be seen how the migration issue will affect the outcome of the vote, and whether any party will be able to form a stable majority in parliament. The latest polls suggest that the PiS is still leading with about 30 percent of support, followed by the PO with about 20 percent, and the Left with about 15 percent. The Confederation, Poland 2050 and the PSL are all hovering around 10 percent.