WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Former Polish prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski has shocked some in Poland by claiming that the Muslim migrants now arriving in Europe are carrying diseases that could hurt local people.
The comments sparked a sharp rebuke from some of his political opponents, with one left-wing politician, Janusz Palikot, slamming Kaczynski's statement as racist language that Adolf Hitler himself "would not be ashamed of."
Kaczynski spoke Tuesday ahead of Poland's Oct. 25 parliamentary election that his right-wing Law and Justice party is expected to win.
The current Polish government has agreed to take 7,000 refugees as part of a European Union resettlement plan, but many in heavily Catholic Poland strongly oppose taking in any Muslims, sentiment that is helping Law and Justice.
"There are already signs of the emergence of very dangerous diseases which haven't been seen in Europe for a long time: Cholera on Greek islands; dysentery in Vienna; various types of parasites, protozoa, which aren't dangerous in the organisms of these people but which could be dangerous here," Kaczynski told voters in Makow Mazowiecki.
"This doesn't mean that anybody should be discriminated against but one must check this," he added.
Andrzej Celinski, a left-wing politician and former anti-communist dissident, said Kaczynski's language reminded him of how Nazi Germany associated Jews with typhus.
"Frightening (people) with parasites is the language of Nazism," Celinski said on TVN24.
The World Health Organization said there is "no systematic association between migration and the importation of infectious diseases."
"Usually, the same communicable diseases are circulating in the receiving countries as in the countries the migrants have come from," said Dr. Guenael Rodier, director of the communicable diseases division at WHO's office in Europe.
"Importation of an exotic disease is rare and when it occurs it tends to involve regular travelers, tourists or health care workers rather than refugees or migrants," Rodier said in an email.
Kaczynski on Wednesday lashed out at the Nazi comparisons, saying the election campaign was "reaching the limits of the absurd."
Opinion polls give Law and Justice a strong lead over the current pro-business ruling party, Civic Platform. However, Kaczynski, prime minister from 2006 to 2007, is not campaigning for that post this time.