Poland’s largest opposition party has accused the government of presenting itself as being opposed to immigration while at the same time overseeing a corruption-prone system that issued visas to 250,000 migrants from Asia and Africa.
The government has not commented on claims that it was possible for people to obtain Polish visas by paying up to $5,000 to effectively skip the queue.
But last week the deputy foreign minister in charge of Poland’s consular system was suddenly fired and also removed as an election candidate by the ruling national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.
— PlatformaObywatelska (@Platforma_org) September 8, 2023
In an election advert published this morning, the centrist Civic Platform (PO), declared that “the PiS government invited 250,000 immigrants from Asia and Africa to Poland – more than France and Germany”.
“Their people created a system allowing intermediaries to issue visas for $5,000 bribes,” it continued, before noting that last week the Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA) visited the foreign ministry.
“They [PiS] scared us [with immigrants] but they themselves let them in,” concluded the advert. “Who else was involved in this affair? After the elections, we will check who was profiting.”
Poland has issued more first residence permits to non-EU immigrants than any other EU member state for the fifth year running.
It issued almost one million permits in 2021, more than twice as much as any other country and one third of the EU total https://t.co/dv26mHQfWt
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) August 11, 2022
What is known for certain is that on Friday last week the foreign ministry confirmed that deputy minister Piotr Wawrzyk had been dismissed from his position by the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki. The only reason publicly given at the time was “a lack of satisfactory cooperation”.
The Rzeczpospolita daily subsequently reported that, a day before Wawrzyk was fired, CBA officers had appeared at the ministry to seize electronic equipment used by the deputy minister.
Asked about the situation on Monday, Morawiecki said that he is “aware of proceedings that are ongoing and hence the dismissal”, reports the Polish Press Agency (PAP).
“We want to maintain absolute transparency and honesty,” he added. “As soon as we find traces of irregularities…we leave matters to be clarified. The dismissal took place to eliminate any doubts.”
.@radekfogiel o aferze wizowej: Trwa postępowanie wyjaśniające, na razie nie ma żadnych podejrzanych#Rymanowski: A dlaczego poleciał minister Wawrzyk?
Fogiel: Cytowałem PMM – to kwestia przejrzystości politycznej naszego środowiska
BR: Ale cień podejrzenia jest@RadioZET_NEWS
— Gość Radia ZET (@Gosc_RadiaZET) September 8, 2023
While the authorities have not given any further information on the reason for the deputy minister’s departure – including no comment at all on the case by foreign minister Zbigniew Rau – reports in a variety of media outlets have suggested that it is related to Wawrzyk’s role overseeing the visa system.
That issue caused controversy earlier this year, when PO leader Donald Tusk accused the government of hypocrisy for presenting itself as opposed to immigration – especially from Muslim-majority countries – while at the same time creating a system making it easier for migrants from such countries to obtain visas.
That criticism led the government to withdraw from a planned new visa system.
The government has halted work on a bill aimed at making it easier for workers from non-EU countries to get visas after criticism from the opposition.
They are „trying to make a technical thing into a political thing,” says minister @SzSz_velSekhttps://t.co/V7c8aL5rWK
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 5, 2023
Over the last week, articles published by Rzeczpospolita and Gazeta Wyborcza – another leading daily that is strongly critical of the government – have suggested that Wawrzyk lost his position due to corruption surrounding the visa system.
Rzeczpospolita reported that the system was very easy to manipulate by firms that knew how it worked. They then charged $4,000-5,000 to help applicants “circumvent the system” and effectively jump the queue to obtain visas.
Meanwhile, two PO MPs, Marcin Kierwiński and Jan Grabiec, claimed after carrying out an inspection at the foreign ministry that there are doubts relating to up to 350,000 visas recently issued to people from Asian and African countries.
Kaczyński, Morawiecki, Kamiński deklarowali, że oni nie wpuszczą imigrantów do Polski. Jednocześnie w 2,5 roku otworzyli nasze granice dla prawie 250 tys. imigrantów z Afryki i Azji. Według dokumentów MSZ tyle wiz wydał rząd PiS.
Gdyby zaproszeni zamieszkali w jednym miejscu, to…
— Jan Grabiec (@JanGrabiec) September 7, 2023
The latest report today by Gazeta Wyborcza, claims that the case concerns in particular VFS Global, a Dubai-based firm that helps process visa applications.
An unnamed source told the newspaper that the CBA was “forced” to investigate under pressure from other EU countries, who have seen “that irregularities occur at Polish consular services, resulting in the mass issuance of visas that enable foreigners from countries where there is a terrorist threat to enter the Schengen area”.
In an interview with Radio Zet today, a senior PiS lawmaker, Radosław Fogiel, confirmed that “pan-European proceedings are underway” and that this had led Morawiecki to dismiss Wawrzyk.
But Fogiel, who is chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, added that he “would warn against using the words ‘gigantic scandal’ because we don’t know enough yet”.
Wizagate. Nowe fakty: „na poziomie polskich służb konsularnych dochodzi do nieprawidłowości skutkujących masowym wydawaniem wiz,które umożliwiają dostanie się do strefy Schengen cudzoziemców pochodzących z krajów, gdzie występuje zagrożenie terrorystyczne” https://t.co/UE9c2v7xBZ
— Bertold Kittel (@Bertold_K) September 7, 2023
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Main image credit: PO/Twitter (screenshot)
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.