Caritas Poland promises to assist migrants as Belarus clears camps on border
By Devin Watkins
Belarus on Thursday cleared several migrant camps along its border with Poland, where thousands of people had huddled for weeks in the cold in hopes of entering the European Union nation.
The first repatriation flight took off from Minsk airport on Thursday, taking hundreds of would-be migrants back to Iraq.
The move came after weeks of tensions along the Poland-Belarus border, and as the European Commission rejected a Belarus proposal that EU nations take in up to 2,000 migrants.
Despite Belarus clearing the camps, Polish authorities announced Friday that around 250 people tried to cross the border into Poland over the previous 24 hours, down by half from the day before.
Several EU countries and the United States have accused Belarus of flying the migrants to Minsk and shunting them to the border to put pressure on the EU.
At least 10 migrants have died in the freezing temperatures, including a 1-year-old child.
Helping needy, respecting border security
In response to the crisis, the Catholic Church has been working to assist migrants, and promised to continue efforts on Thursday.
Caritas Poland held a press conference that morning detailing those efforts, saying that around 215,000 Euro in assistance has been provided to migrants since September.
The Director of Caritas Polska, Fr. Marcin Iżycki, said the humanitarian aid is not aimed at hindering efforts to secure the EU nation’s border.
“There is no contradiction in helping the needy and respecting the work of those who defend the security of our border and our country,” he told reporters.
Fr. Iżycki added that Caritas Poland is helping everyone involved in the border crisis, from migrants to local residents.
Border agents handing out aid
The Church in Poland plans to hold a collection at this Sunday’s Masses for migrants and refugees.
Caritas has set up “Tents of Hope” in 7 parishes in the Archdiocese of Białystok, near the border, to collect food, clothing, blankets, and anything that the needy might require.
The organization also runs several centers for foreigners in Poland, with the number of people assisted tripling over the past weeks.
The Caritas director for the Archdiocese, Jerzy Sęczek, said help is given to anyone who needs it and that even security officers have handed out aid.
He said many of the border agents are members of local parishes and that some have collected basic necessities from their churches and handed them directly to the migrants.
Media portrayal versus personal experience
At the press conference, Franciscan Fr. Cordian Szwarc said parishes along the Belarus border have done their best to help migrants with food, clothes, or water.
“We have been here for two weeks now,” he said, “and we see that the people who form these parishes are good people, in the good sense of the word, simple, good people who have learned from their grandparents what is good and what is bad.”
He added that the media has portrayed the migrants in an unfavorable light.
“There is a very different reaction to a person who asks for help with their hand out and a very different reaction when you see several thousand people gathered at the border and presented in this way,” said Fr. Szwarc.