WARSAW, Poland (AP) – The influential Polish Catholic Church on Monday appealed for humanitarian aid for migrants from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere who sought to reach Europe from Belarus to Poland .
Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, has asked for permission to launch humanitarian corridors in order to control the resettlement of refugees and to put an end to a chaotic migration which is taking place “at the hands of smuggling gangs”.
Church authorities largely aligned themselves with the conservative Polish government, and the statement appeared to be an unusual rebuke of the way state authorities have handled the migration crisis.
Warsaw has responded to large-scale migration with a tough approach, refusing to let migrants seek asylum and pushing some across the border to Belarus. These policies violate international law, but the Polish government maintains that it must protect the country’s borders and security in the face of a “hybrid war” attack from Belarus.
People found themselves trapped at the border, suffering from thirst, hunger and exhaustion. There are reports of several deaths from the exposure. Many Poles were horrified last week by the images of children, including toddlers, arriving in Poland to be sent back to Belarus.
“The right and the duty to defend state borders can be reconciled with helping people who find themselves in dire situations,” Gadecki wrote in his appeal.
The right-wing Polish government accuses Belarus of facilitating large-scale migration to Poland to create instability in the European Union. Poland and other EU countries – in particular Lithuania and Latvia, which also border Belarus and have seen migrants enter their countries – believe it is revenge for the sanctions of the EU against the government of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Senior government officials have described some of the migrants as dangerous criminals, terrorists or people with sexual perversions. Meanwhile, Poles who criticize the government’s approach have been accused of siding with Lukashenko against their own nation.
Gadecki said authorities have a duty to detect potential threats from people crossing the country’s borders, but should not stigmatize new arrivals by making harmful generalizations.
He recalled the Christian duty to help migrants and refugees.
He also expressed his gratitude for the assistance given to the Afghans who were evacuated by the Polish authorities when the Taliban took control of Kabul.
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