Poland’s president warns of refugees bringing epidemics

Andrzej Duda’s call for government to take steps to prevent outbreak of disease prompts comparisons to Nazi rhetoric.

Belgian royal couple visit
Duda's comments have been compared to Nazi rhetoric by Polish politicians and sections of the media [EPA]

Poland’s conservative President Andrzej Duda has said the government should take steps to protect its citizens from refugees bringing in “possible epidemics”. 

Can the influx of refugees into Europe be stopped?

Duda told the TVN24 channel on Sunday that the government should prioritise the physical and financial security of Poles, as well as their health.

Duda said if the government was ready to accept refugees it should take measures “to ensure that Poles are well protected against epidemiological risks”.

The comments by the president, whose role is largely ceremonial, echo those of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the populist Law and Justice party of which Duda is a member.

The party is widely tipped to win legislative elections due on October 25.

‘Dysentery in Vienna’

Kaczynski had spoken of “cholera in the Greek islands” and “dysentery in Vienna” and accused refugees of “bringing in all kinds of parasites which are not dangerous in their own countries, but which could prove dangerous for the local populations” in Europe.

Speaking outside a refugee centre, Kaczynski had also asked the centrist government of Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz to clearly spell out how it planned to “protect” Polish citizens.

The comments were widely criticised by both centrist leaders and the media, which likened them to hate speech and said they were reminiscent of Nazi propaganda.The Nazis had accused Jews of carrying typhus.

Contrary to Duda and Kaczynski’s warnings, the World Health Organization (WHO) says there is no association between migration and infectious diseases.

“In spite of the common perception of an association between migration and the importation of infectious diseases, there is no systematic association,” a September report by the WHO said.

“These diseases have not, however, been eliminated and still exist in the European region, independently of migration.”

“The risk for importation of exotic and rare infectious agents into Europe, such as Ebola, Marburg and Lassa viruses or Middle East respiratory syndrome [MERS], is extremely low.”

“Experience has shown that when importation occurs, it involves regular travellers, tourists, or healthcare workers, rather than refugees or migrants.”

Poland had long been reluctant to take in refugees but finally agreed to accept about 5,000 of the 120,000 people to be shared between the 28-member EU – up from an initial 2,000.

Other Eastern European states have also been reluctant to take refugees, citing fears of disease and terrorism.

In September, Czech President Milos Zeman warned that refugees could possibly bring infectious diseases and be involved in terrorism.

Tens of thousands have fled wars and poverty in Asia and Africa to the relative safety of Europe [EPA]
Tens of thousands have fled wars and poverty in Asia and Africa to the relative safety of Europe [EPA]
Source: Al Jazeera, AP