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A broadening visa scandal has put pressure on Poland’s right-wing government ahead of elections next month, fuelling the opposition’s claims that it has failed to curb illegal migration.
The centre-right Civic Platform party, led by former prime minister Donald Tusk, has accused the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party of tolerating a corruption scheme that illegally sold Polish visas at consulates around the world, despite trumpeting tough anti-immigration measures.
The government has acknowledged that hundreds of visas were sold illegally, but argued that the numbers were much lower than those claimed by the opposition. It also sacked deputy foreign minister Piotr Wawrzyk over the affair and Poland’s public prosecution has charged seven people for corruption, three of whom have been detained.
In an effort to appeal to right-wing voters, Tusk has used tougher anti-immigrant rhetoric during the campaign, questioning the efficiency of the government’s policies in curbing migration from Muslim countries. Poland has also been vocal in denouncing the actions of neighbouring Belarus, whose leader Alexander Lukashenko in 2021 lured migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere with the promise to allow them to cross the EU border into Poland.
Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki, an MP with Tusk’s opposition, on Friday urged PiS voters to treat the illegal visa scheme as the biggest fraud scandal of the century, which also tarnished Poland’s reputation worldwide. Grodzki argued that fraud “at the highest levels of government” represented “a direct threat to all of us”.
Senior government officials have denied any prior knowledge of an illegal visa scheme.
Foreign minister Zbigniew Rau said that the investigation focused on only 200 cases, compared with 2mn visas issued by Poland in the past 30 months. Responding to Grodzki, Rau said that “if it is the scandal of the century, I would prefer to talk about the flood of fake news”.
According to most recent polls, PiS is still ahead at about 37 per cent but has lost support ahead of the October 15 election, dropping seven points compared with the last election. Civic Platform is second, with 30 per cent of voting intentions, meaning they would each have to seek the support of other parties to form a coalition government.
“The government created national hysteria that Poland was threatened with a flood of Muslims, that women would be raped by Arabs, that people would be afraid to go out on the streets,” said Adam Michnik, chief editor of newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, who was one the significant players in Poland’s transition from communism to democracy.
But instead of responding with a very selective and restrictive migration policy, Michnik added: “They gave a lot of visas themselves . . . visas in return for money.”
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