WARSAW (Reuters) – Thousands gathered in Warsaw for an annual Independence Day march carrying Polish and nationalist group flags, an event the far-right organizers dedicated to uniformed “protectors of the border” amid an escalating migrant crisis at the country’s eastern border.

Warsaw authorities had secured a court ban on the event that runs separately from official celebrations and has a history of occasional violence, but Poland’s nationalist administration helped challenge the ban.

Marchers, including families with children but also representatives of nationalist groups like ONR, fired red flares and chanted “Viva, viva border guard” and “God, Honour, Homeland” as they walked through Warsaw.

March leaders warned against what they said were Western attempts to turn Poles into “pariahs”, and condemned liberal Western political and cultural influences, saying Poles did not want to “kill unborn children”.

Critics say in lending its hand, the Law and Justice government is giving overt support to the far-right and fomenting anti-migrant sentiment at a time when Poland faces unprecedented pressure from thousands of migrants trying to cross into the European Union via its border with Belarus.

The European Union accuses Minsk of manufacturing the crisis in revenge for earlier sanctions by helping people fleeing conflict-torn regions make it to Belarus and then try to cross into Poland and its other EU neighbours.

A Law and Justice spokesperson declined to comment on whether the party was endorsing the march and directed questions to a veterans’ agency that gave it the formal approval.

Poland also faces its worst conflict with the EU in years over accusations that it is subverting the rule of law.

Representatives of other European far-right groups, including the Hungarian Our Homeland Party, were expected to take part in the march. Polish media reported Italian far-right group Fuorza Nuova was present.

(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk in Warsaw, Additional reporting by Krisztina Than in Budapest, Editing by Tomasz Janowski)