The Speaker of the Polish Parliament Szymon Hołownia has been criticised for hosting “illegal migrants” who entered Poland via the Belarusian border at his Christmas reception for “people in need” in the main parliamentary building.
Hołownia posed for a photograph on December 22 with migrants who had entered Poland illegally which, according to the Conservative PiS opposition, was a move that would encourage and legitimise illegal migration.
The photo was shared on social media by Fundacja Ocalenie, a Polish NGO that helps migrants who have crossed the Belarus border. The group claimed that one of those pictured had been subject to “three push-backs”, what Polish authorities refer to as the sending back of migrants over the border into Belarus.
The woman, referred to as “Lysette” was quoted as saying: “I would never have thought, while I was in the forest on the Belarusian-Polish border, that one day I would be invited to the Polish Sejm [lower house of the Parliament], that I would be among the specially invited people. Such a thought would not have even crossed my mind then.”
The Ocalenie foundation ended its post expressing hope that the presence of the migrants at the reception in Parliament signalled government policy moving towards an approach that works for “inclusion, integration and understanding”.
The use of border push-backs has been questioned by the Polish courts and Hołownia last month called such actions “illegal and inhumane”. He called for them to stop while emphasising that the “border must be tight and secure”.
Hołownia’s hosting of illegal migrants prompted thousands of comments on social media, including from politicians and journalists.
“This type of action by the speaker of the Sejm is an invitation to illegally cross the Polish border,” wrote Sebastian Kaleta, who served as deputy justice minister in the PiS government until it was ousted a few weeks ago.
He added that the move would encourage both Russia and Belarus to “take advantage of the change of government in Poland” and launch a new surge of attempted illegal border crossings.
“This photo is political suicide,” wrote Kamila Baranowska, a journalist from the Interia news website.
Jacek Gądek, from the Liberal Gazeta.pl tweeted that “Szymon Hołownia’s act of compassion is also a political mistake. A huge one”.
Hołownia, a former TV presenter, was elected Speaker of Parliament in November and is leader of the Poland 2050 party he formed after gaining 14 per cent of the vote as an independent in the presidential election of 2020.
His party then formed an electoral alliance with the Polish People’s Party (PSL) and polled just under 15 per cent in the parliamentary elections in October, becoming part of the four-party coalition Government led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
Political scientist Sergey Sumlenny warned that Poland could expect more attempted illegal entries, pointing to the fact that Turkish airline Southwind has chartered planes and personnel from a Russian airline and was offering flights from Turkey to Minsk for less than €200.
Since 2021, tens of thousands of migrants and refugees, mostly from the Middle East, Asia and Africa, have tried to cross the Belarus border into Poland with the alleged help of the Belarusian authorities in what Polish and European Union authorities have labelled a “hybrid attack”.
Migration was a major issue in October’s election, with the PiS accusing the parties that supported Donald Tusk of being willing to take a softer line on migration than that of the outgoing PiS government.
The Tusk-led then-opposition, along with the hard-right Confederation party, fired back, accusing the PiS of being “hypocritical” as its government let in an estimated 250,000 foreign workers, claiming some of those arrivals had obtained their visas illegally.
Since taking power, Tusk’s Government has not accepted the EU’s Migration Pact under which Member States either take in migrants arriving in the bloc or contribute financially for their upkeep elsewhere.
The new Government argues that Poland should be exempt from these provisions because of the numbers of Ukrainian refugees it has already accepted since the start of the Russian aggression in 2022.
Despite that, in accordance with the provisions of the Migration Pact, Poland will have to make an application for any such exemption to the European Commission, which will have the discretionary power to grant Warsaw’s wishes.