WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland has denied entry to a group of Chechens because the country is sealing its border to protect the nation and Europe against the threat of terrorism, its interior minister said Wednesday.
Mariusz Blaszczak was commenting on Poland's refusal this week to admit some 200 Chechen migrants who were trying to cross the European Union's external border from Brest, Belarus.
On Monday night, a group of Chechens camped in Brest protesting the denial to enter Poland and demanded to speak to Polish authorities, according to Poland-based Belsat TV. A spokesman for Poland's local Border Guard, Dariusz Sienicki, told The Associated Press Wednesday that the group had returned to Belarus.
Human rights groups say torture, abductions and extrajudicial executions have been widespread during the rule of Chechnya's Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov and the Chechens say they aim to enter the EU through Poland to seek asylum. Most travel on to Germany or other western European countries.
Speaking on Polish TVN24 Blaszczak said that as long as he is the interior minister and the conservative Law and Justice party is in power "we will not expose Poland to the threat of terrorism."
"The point is to ensure security for Europe," he said.
He did not explain why he linked the Chechens to terrorism.
In the past, Chechen separatists have used guerrilla tactics in their campaign to end Russian rule on their land. Two Chechen brothers were identified as the bombers who attacked the Boston Marathon race in 2013, and the Turkish government has asserted that at least one Chechen was involved in the attack on Ataturk airport in which 44 people died.
Poland was receptive to Chechens during Chechnya's war against Russian forces, which ended in 2009.
Sienicki said that some 6,000 Russian citizens, mostly Chechens, have been admitted to Poland so far this year, a 150 percent increase from the same period last year. During the same time, some 30,000 people have been denied entry.
Quoting security concerns after terrorist attacks in Western Europe, Poland rejects the EU plan for the group's members to share responsibility for sheltering hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing conflict in Syria, the Middle East and Africa. Warsaw urges tighter control of the EU's external borders and insists on better cooperation in offering humanitarian aid to refugees in camps close to their homelands.
Blaszczak said Polish border guards have been deployed to help guard the EU's border in Bulgaria and more will soon be deployed to the borders in Hungary and Greece.
Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.