Polish prime minister says accepting refugees is Poland's duty

Poland's Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz speaks during a news conference at the Prime Minister Chancellery in Warsaw, Poland June 10, 2015. REUTERS/Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta

KRYNICA ZDROJ, Poland (Reuters) - Poland cannot afford to accept economic migrants, but it is the biggest central European economy’s duty to accept refugees fleeing wars, Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said on Thursday.

“Accepting migrants escaping to save their lives is our duty,” Kopacz, speaking ahead of an election in October, told a news briefing at a forum in the Southern city of Krynica Zdroj.

The EU is struggling to cope with its biggest influx of refugees and migrants since the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, most fleeing war or extreme poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

European Union chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker appealed to European countries on Wednesday to take in a share of the refugees pouring in through its frontiers, but at the same time promised tougher border controls to keep unwanted migrants out.

In July, Poland agreed to accept more than 2,000 refugees from Syria and North Africa by 2017. But according to Juncker’s emergency plan, Poland would be required to accept almost 10,000 more.

On Wednesday, Kopacz took a cautious line, saying Poland was considering raising the number of migrants it was willing to accept. On Thursday she appeared to reiterate that position, while expressing sympathy for the refugees’ plight.

“We benefited from the solidarity of our European partners when we had our own refugees. We cannot forget about that, we cannot be immune to this disaster,” she said. She added that Poland should help share the burden, as it may need help when faced with a larger influx of refugees from Ukraine.

“But just as we cannot await the impossible, they cannot await the unrealistic from us,” she added. “Our solidarity has to be responsible and has to bear reference to our capabilities.”

The main opposition Law and Justice party’s candidate for prime minister in the October election said on Wednesday that the country would not yield to pressure from Juncker over the migrant crisis.

Reporting by Wojciech Zurawski and Marcin Goettig; Writing by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Adrian Krajewski and Hugh Lawson