Why Poland Wants Container Camps for Asylum Seekers

A Draconian Response to the EU's Migration Problem

Protesters hold banner which reads 'We will not give Poland' during anti-immigrant rally in front of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland, February 2016. Kacper Pempel / REUTERS

Earlier this month, the Polish government proposed the adoption of a controversial Hungarian policy: the construction of so-called container camps to detain arriving asylum seekers while their claims are assessed. The move, which would put camps near Poland’s border with Belarus, would risk violating both EU and international law, yet the response of EU member states has so far been muted. The EU, facing so many other challenges, is too weak to fight with the governments whose support it still needs. Knowing as much, Poland and Hungary have taken to punching the European Commission on the nose, playing to receptive Eurosceptic voters at home.

Beyond that, in the particular case of the container camps, such camps may contravene the fundamental right to asylum, but they do not stray too far from ideas already floating among mainstream governments in other EU member states. And as long as the EU fails to condemn such policies or offer its own response to the migration issue, container camps and similar efforts will only become more popular. All this feeds into the ongoing battle within the EU between philosophical values and pragmatic needs.


Both Poland and Hungary have claimed that the new policies will improve security and address the tricky issue of onward movement of asylum seekers across Europe. Under European rules, asylum seekers must seek protection in the first member state they enter; in practice, however, the burden has fallen unevenly across nations, and asylum seekers tend not to abide by those rules. Indeed, few of the 170,000-odd asylum seekers who arrived in Hungary in the 2015 frenzy waited around to hear the outcome of their claims, preferring to move further west. These arrivals were part of a larger flow through Turkey and Greece and up through the Western Balkans. This traffic was then diverted to Slovenia after the Hungarian government erected a wall across its borders with Serbia and Croatia later in 2015.

Poland has not faced the same scale of

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