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Leftist NGOs Urge EU to Halt Poland’s Construction of Border Wall

Less than a month after construction workers broke ground on the Polish-Belarusian border wall aimed at stopping the onslaught of illegal migration into the EU, a collection of leftist and pro-migration NGOs have urged the European Commission to halt Poland’s project on account of the negative impact it may have on the surrounding environment.  

The Granica Group, an NGO which bills itself as a humanitarian “social movement that opposes the government’s responses to the events taking place on the Polish-Belarusian border,” announced on social media earlier this week that some 150 NGOs have called on the EU’s executive arm to halt construction of the 180-kilometer wall along Poland’s eastern border with Belarus.

Poland’s decision to erect the wall came in October amid an escalating crisis along its border with Belarus. The crisis began last summer after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko first lured tens of thousands of migrants to Eastern Europe with visa-free travel, then sent them westward toward the EU’s eastern flank, fomenting a massive geopolitical and humanitarian crisis which then dragged on for months.

Now, less than a month after the project began, an assortment of pro-migration and environmental NGOs have come together to oppose its construction, insisting that the barrier will disrupt plant and animal ecology in the area.

In particular, the environmental groups are concerned that the wall will negatively impact the ecosystems of areas within Natura 2000 sites, a network of “core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species.” The wall’s impact on the Bialowieza Forest, a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site inhabited by the lynx, the European bison, and other endangered species, is of particular concern.

“We call on the European Commission, which is the guardian of the EU’s Treaties and Laws, to urgently take action to stop this barrier that goes against all European human rights principles and is in infringement of EU law on nature,” Augustyn Mikos from the Association Workshop for All Beings said, adding the wall would be ineffective at stopping illegal migration.

During a recent interview with Polska Agencja Prasowa, Deputy Minister of Climate and Environment Małgorzata Golińska sought to address the concerns of uneasy conservationist groups. Although the wall’s construction would have some environmental impact on the surrounding area, he said, its effect would be less than that which has already been caused by migrants—such as deforestation and soil pollution due to rampant littering. 

Anna Michalska, the spokeswoman for the Polish Border Guard, also responded to concerns over ecological and animal welfare, telling the press that those involved in the construction process intend on causing as little damage as possible to the environment. She also noted that “tree felling will be limited to the minimum required,” and made it clear that construction is taking place along a preexisting border road, Gorzów City Radio reports.

Recent opinion polls have shown that most Poles support the wall’s construction as a way to combat illegal migration. In October of 2021, the Institute for Social Research and Market (IBRiS) carried out a survey for Polsat TV, which revealed 48% of Poles back a wall along the country’s eastern flank, while 43% objected to it. A separate poll, published the same month—this time conducted by Rzeczpospolita—showed that 55% of the population support the wall’s construction.

The wall is expected to be completed in June 2022, provided that construction moves forward as planned, which it is likely to do.

Robert Semonsen is a political journalist based in Central Europe. His work has been featured in various English-language news outlets in Europe and the Americas. He has an educational background in biological and medical science. His Twitter handle is @R_Semonsen.

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