The campaign ads were linked to a controversial migration referendum scheduled for the same day as the election by Morawiecki’s eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party. In power since 2015, the PiS had been challenged by a pro-European opposition that together won more votes than the governing conservatives. Poland’s current government and its ally Hungary are opposed to an EU plan for migration reform.

On September 15, 2023, Prime Minister Morawiecki released the migration-themed campaign ad on (formerly known as Twitter) and Facebook in which he alleges that former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk and former German chancellor Angela Merkel are responsible for an EU policy that has led to “rape, to robbery, to vandalising streets, to looting European cities, to chaos and conflagration.” Many of the clips feature Black men in scenarios designed to make white women look unsafe around them.

On September 19, 2023, the PiS released a shorter campaign ad on Facebook and , also on the theme of migrants. The post’s caption reads: “There is another big wave of illegal immigrants in southern Europe.” 

But the blend of images we can see in this party propaganda does not specifically link to criminal activity by migrants in the EU, or the genuine upsurge in migrant arrivals to Lampedusa in recent weeks.

An attack on two women occurred in Seattle, United States

One of the most violent images from Morawiecki’s campaign ad is at 02:18, where we see a Black man beating a white woman following footage of men waiting on small boats in the sea. We traced the original clip using reverse image search techniques and found a version of this video published on September 10, 2023 by the “@RadioGenoa” account on X (archived here) and Telegram

This English-language account largely posts misinformation about migrants, as we have found from previous investigations. Thanks to this longer video we traced another version of the video in which a logo appears for “Tower 12 Apartments”. That led us to this building in Seattle, US, and we uncovered articles in Spanish-language US media on this incident from September 11, 2023. As such, the incident neither occurred within the EU’s borders nor features recent migrants, and the circumstances of the skirmish are disputed.

Screenshot of Morawiecki’s Facebook post (left). Screenshot of an article from El Heraldo de Mexico. Comparison made by AFP on October 10, 2023. Cross added by AFP.

The next scene we see is of a Black man simply walking past a white woman at 02:24, overlaid with Morawiecki asking: “Are there ghettos in Poland? No. Is there fear of going out on the street in the evening in Poland? Is there fear of rapes? No!” Burning cars and street violence are seen before another clip of an attack on women. These contextless images are not explained, simply drawing a racist allusion before we rapidly move on.

Woman kicked down stairs on Berlin metro was a victim of Bulgarian attacker

Also in Morawiecki’s clip  (at 02:40 on X), we see a woman kicked down a flight of stairs by a man. We divided the clip into frames and conducted a reverse search. “In Poland there is no problem of illegal migrants,” the prime minister says. 

This led us to a 2016 article published in The Guardian, and another from German newspaper Bild, which published the metro video with the following caption: “On the stairs from the S-Bahn to the platform of the Berlin U8 on Hermannstrasse.” 

The man was identified at the time as an asylum seeker, with many saying it was further proof that Germany had become less safe since allowing around 1 million refugees into the country in 2015.

But in fact, police later revealed the attacker was a Bulgarian national named Svetoslav Stoykov, and not a recent arrival to the EU from Africa or Asia, as circulating misinformation had claimed. In December 2016, he was arrested, other media reported (here here)  and in 2017 sentenced “to almost three years in prison”.

Screenshot of Morawiecki’s Facebook post (left). Screenshot of a Bild article. Comparison made by AFP on October 10, 2023. Cross added by AFP.

March scenes are from Libya and Slovenia 

We now turn to the PiS’s shorter campaign ad on Facebook and , also on the theme of migrants. 

The clip contains the same mix of out of context images with tinges of racism. At 00:15 we see hundreds of men marching in the desert. In a previous debunk,  AFP demonstrated that the footage does not show migrants escorted by soldiers on their way from Libya to Italy as suggested by social media users, but was shot on the Libyan-Egyptian border when a mass deportation of migrants from Libya to Egypt was carried out in June this year. 

There are some real images of migrants marching within the EU’s borders, but not in Lampedusa, and not from the last few months. At 00:16 in the PiS video we see a flow of people marching in green fields. Using reverse image searches we found a longer version of the video which was taken from a drone by AP reporters on 25 October, 2015 near the villages of Rigonce and Dobova, (archived here) showing migrants and refugees marching through Slovenia —  mostlySyrian citizens fleeing civil war. AFP already debunked false suggestions about the location of this video here.

More than 8,000 people streamed into Slovenia from Croatia that day, as the Eastern European nation become a new key transit point on the migrant route.

Screenshot of a PiS post on Facebook (left). Screenshot of AP footage on YouTube. Comparison made by AFP on October 10, 2023. Cross added by AFP.


ISIS attack on Brussels in 2016 

Additionally, at the 00:48 minute mark of the PiS campaign ad, we see images of destroyed buildings while the prime minister says that his government has “successfully defended our borders from the wave of illegal immigrants”. These images are from a 2016 Islamic State attack on an airport and metro station in Belgium. We can notably see the footage on the BBC ( archived here). These attacks were carried out by French and Belgian nationals, not illegal immigrants in Lampedusa.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks which left at least 31 dead and more than 220 injured. 

Screenshot of the PiS post on Facebook (left). Screenshot of BBC footage on YouTube. Comparison made by AFP on October 10, 2023. Cross added by AFP.

The Morawiecki clip also shows a destroyed train. We traced these images and found them on CBS (archived here) in a report on the terrorist attack at the Maelbeek metro station, with no direct connection with Lampedusa.

The PiS clip also contains the same images of the attack on the woman in the Berlin metro at 00:28. 

Screenshot of the PiS post on Facebook (left). Screen of a CBS report. Comparison made by AFP on October 10,2023. Cross added by AFP.

Religious procession from Leicester  

Finally, on October 4, 2023, PiS released another clip about migrants on Facebook and  X. 

At 0:11, images of a procession of men dressed in black and walking down a street are shown. We found the same images on the RadioGenoa account. 

We conducted more searches and found the original footage on TikTok. This was taken during a religious procession in Leicester organised by the Muslim community, in a clip entitled: “Annual Mawlid Procession 2023”. The event was entirely peaceful.

Screenshot of Morawiecki’s Facebook post (left). Screenshot of a TikTok post. Comparison made by AFP on October 10, 2023. Cross added by AFP.

AFP has debunked more myths around migration to the EU here and here.

Located just 90 miles (around 145 kilometres) off the coast of Tunisia, Lampedusa is one of the first points of call for migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

surge in asylum seekers has rekindled a fierce debate in Europe on how to share responsibility for the tens of thousands reaching the continent each year.

Fine weather has seen more arrivals in recent weeks. Most are picked up at sea from rickety boats by the coastguard, which brings them to Lampedusa port. More than 127,000 migrants have arrived on Italy’s shores so far this year, almost double the number in the period last year. 

But many do not survive the journey by sea. More than 2,000 people have died this year crossing between North Africa and Italy and Malta, according to the UN migration agency.


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Translation : Anna Maria JAKUBEK


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