Polish Catholic archbishop: Help migrants caught in Belarus border crisis

Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference. | episkopat.pl.

The president of Poland’s Catholic bishops’ conference called on Monday for humanitarian aid for migrants seeking to enter the country from neighboring Belarus.

Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki made the appeal on Oct. 4 amid tensions between Poland and Belarus over an unprecedented rise in migrants seeking to cross the border.

“In view of the events on the Polish border in past weeks, the recently celebrated 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees gives me an opportune occasion to recall once again the Christians’ responsibility for strangers and to seek solutions that serve the common good,” said the archbishop on the day that Poland’s bishops began their ad limina visit to Rome.

“As Christians, we must be convinced that the right and duty to defend the state borders can be reconciled with bringing help to people who find themselves in dramatic situations of ‘no return’ as hostages to the geopolitical games of certain politicians.”

The Polish government has accused Belarus of seeking to create a migrant crisis as part of a Russian-backed “hybrid war” in retaliation for sanctions imposed after the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in August 2020.

Poland, a central European country with a population of 38 million, sent troops to secure the roughly 250-mile border with Belarus.

On Sept. 30, the Polish parliament voted to extend a state of emergency at the border by 60 days. The initial 30-day state of emergency was the first of its kind since the collapse of communism in 1989.

The Polish government has promised to build a wall to prevent further migration. Poland’s Border Guard reported that 590 people attempted to cross the frontier illegally on Oct. 4. More than 8,200 migrants have been stopped at the border since the start of August and a further 1,200 have entered the country.

Since Aug. 8, a group of migrants has been trapped in a border area near the Polish village of Usnarz Górny.

The U.N. refugee agency urged Poland to admit the group, whose members are believed to be from Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Polish government insisted that they are economic migrants rather than asylum seekers and should remain in Belarus.

In his message, Gądecki said: “Sensitivity to the fate of people arriving in our country, along with medical and humanitarian assistance to migrants, should become a priority of action for both state and non-governmental institutions, including churches and religious communities.”

“The inalienable dignity of every human being, regardless of his or her status, origin or religion, and the right to fraternal love urge us to help them. Humanitarian sensitivity is, in fact, a manifestation of our humanity.”

The archbishop of Poznań, west-central Poland, added: “While the authorities have the duty of detecting potential threats from people crossing the country’s borders, it is not acceptable to stigmatize newcomers by making hurtful generalizations that ‘every refugee is a potential terrorist.’”

The border crisis has affected Latvia and Lithuania, which are also European Union member states neighboring Belarus.

Lukashenko, who has led Belarus since 1994, launched a crackdown on protesters in the wake of the presidential election. Those imprisoned included members of the country’s ethnic Polish minority.

At the start of August, Poland gave a humanitarian visa to the Belarusian athlete Krystina Timanovskaya, who defied an order to fly home early from the Tokyo Olympics.

Gądecki thanked individuals and groups helping those in need at the border, including Caritas Poland, Poland’s largest charitable organization.

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“The Catholic Church in Poland declares its readiness to join in the search for the best solutions, which -- within the framework of the legal order -- will serve the common good widely understood,” the 71-year-old archbishop said.

“Therefore, I would like to appeal for consent to launch humanitarian corridors, which Caritas Poland has declared its readiness to coordinate since 2016.”

“This mechanism, which has already been tested in other countries, makes it possible to provide concrete help to the neediest victims of wars and persecutions in a safe and fully controlled way.”

He added that “precisely controlled migration processes” were preferable to “chaotic migration, at the hands of gangs of smugglers.”

“While expressing thanks for the help given to Afghans a few weeks ago, I appeal today to all people of goodwill to treat service and assistance to foreigners coming to Poland as an opportunity to practice the love of neighbor, which is the cornerstone of our faith,” he concluded, asking for prayers for refugees and migrants.

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