By Lisa Zengarini
As the migrant crisis escalates on the border between Poland and Belarus, Polish bishops are calling on the faithful to show solidarity to migrants and refugees who have managed to enter the country. “Regardless of the circumstances of their arrival, they certainly need our spiritual and material support ", wrote the president of the Polish bishops, Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki. He announced that the Polish Church will hold a special collection on Sunday 21 November, saying the humanitarian situation in the region is "serious.”
Thousands of migrants and refugees since August
Poland has been facing a major emergency since last August, when thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa started to flow into the country, as well as into Lithuania and Latvia, from neighbouring Belarus. According to Polish authorities, there have been more than 30,000 illegal attempts so far.
Minsk government behind the flow
The Polish government, along with the European Union, has accused Minsk of encouraging the massive flow as a form of “hybrid warfare” in retaliation for Western sanctions on President Alexander Lukashenko’s government for his brutal crackdown against pro-democracy protests. Lukashenko, who won a sixth term in a disputed presidential election in August 2020 and is supported by Russia, has repeatedly denied the accusations.
Poland's crackdown on migrants
In response to the crisis, Poland has built a razor-wire fence, deployed additional troops, border guards and police along its eastern border, and is cracking down on migrants attempting to enter the country. The border guards have been pushing migrants back across the border, including families with children, thanks also to a new Polish law that makes that legal. Polish lawmakers have also approved recently the construction of a €347 million anti-migrant wall.
Human rights groups, however, have criticised both Poland and Belarus for their harsh treatment of migrants and refugees, who face cold weather and a lack of food and medical care. At least seven people have died so far trying to make their way into the country. Other people are also reported to have died on the Belarusian side.
Bishops' call for solidarity and prayer
While upholding Warsaw’s stance on the issue and Poland’s right to protect its borders, the Catholic Church in Poland continues to provide relief work for the migrants and actively advocates for the respect of their basic human rights, through its Caritas network and the Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office of the Bishops’ Conference of Poland (KEP).
In his message, Archbishop Gądecki calls on the faithful and all people of goodwill to support this effort by contributing to the special collection of November 21, recalling that the Church's primary mission is the proclamation of the Gospel which calls for solidarity with the most vulnerable. The funds, he explained, will help the Church’s humanitarian activities that aim to meet the growing needs of the migrants during the crisis, as well as its efforts, in the long term, to promote the integration of refugees who decide to stay in Poland.
In conclusion, the President of the Polish Bishops invited Catholics to pray for peace on Poland's eastern border.