Poland's Muslim Tatars join effort to aid migrants crossing from Belarus

  • World
  • Wednesday, 17 Nov 2021

BIALYSTOK/BOHONIKI, Poland (Reuters) - For Tomasz Miskiewicz, the mufti who heads Poland's Muslim community, helping migrants entering the country from Belarus is about humanity, not religion.

Miskiewicz is working with Lipka Tatars in eastern Poland, a group of around 2,000 people who are part of one of the oldest Muslim communities in Europe, to show that, like other Poles, they are keen to help.

The European Union says the ongoing migration crisis has been orchestrated by Belarus - an ally of Russia - in retaliation for EU sanctions imposed over a crackdown on political protests, a charge that Minsk denies.

Up to 4,000 migrants, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan, are now waiting in freezing forests on Poland's frontier, which is also the external border of the EU and NATO, the Western military alliance.

"Whether a person has the right to stay legally in Poland or not, every person has the right to a roof over their head, to a warm place to stay, to a plate with warm soup and warm meals in general, to decent clothing," Miskiewicz told Reuters.

The Tatars are a tiny minority in Poland, where over 90% of Poles are Catholic and the Catholic church plays a crucial role in society and politics.

Miskiewicz praised the church's efforts to provide humanitarian aid, and said Poland's Muslims were doing the same.

For the last few weeks, he and the head of the Tatar community, Maciej Szczesnowicz, have been working together to provide support for those crossing and working at the border.

"People from Poland and Germany send us packages, donations and donate money to our county. From our Muslim community, there is a lot of help. We also cook soups for the soldiers, we serve 300 portions every day," Szczesnowicz told Reuters.

At least eight migrants have died, and the funeral of 19-year-old Syrian migrant Ahmed al-Hassan in Bohoniki, where part of Poland's Tatar community is based, was the first to be held in Poland for a victim of the current crisis.

Miskiewicz said society needed to avoid more suffering, especially after history showed what happened at Nazi German concentration camp Auschwitz and during the Srebrenica massacre.

"We still haven't learned from that lesson. The lesson about being humble: One human should help another."

(Reporting by Felix Hoske and Fedja Grulovic; Writing by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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