By editor - 26 July, 2016
The phenomenon of immigration is “new, different, and strange to the average Polish person”.
Fears fuelled by inappropriate statements by some political parties and politicians have contributed to a mistrust of Muslims and immigrants in Poland according to a spokesman for the Polish bishops.
In a statement issued just ahead of Pope Francis’ arrival in the country for World Youth Day, the Polish Church has sought to highlight its role in welcoming refugees from the Middle East and North Africa and raising €1.2 million to assist 3,000 migrants annually.
Care and welcome for migrants and refugees has been a theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate and some commentators are interpreting the Polish statement as a attempt by the hierarchy to be seen as ‘on message’ with the Pontiff.
In the statement, Fr Pawel Rytel-Andrianik notes that Poland is not located on the road of the main migratory flows in Europe.
In 2015, 12,325 requests for asylum were presented in Poland. The majority of requests were made by citizens of the Russian Federation (Chechens) – 7989, Ukraine – 2305, and other countries such as Georgia – 394, Syria – 295, and Armenia – 195.
He acknowledges that the problems in Poland are not comparable to those experienced in the majority of European Union member states.
Describing Poland as “an ethnically homogeneous country”, the bishops’ spokesman describes the phenomenon of immigration in general (and of refugees and asylum seekers in general) as “new, different, and strange to the average Polish person”.
Though they make up just 0.4 percent of the population as a whole, “great fears exist” to immigrants.
“The reason for this may be found in the lack of public debate, in the complicated content of the law and migration procedures and in insufficient involvement by organs of public governance, non-governmental organisations and so on”.
There is no systematic programme for teaching the Polish people about diversity on the basis of religion, race, culture, etc, other than a number of programmes at local-level or focused on specific target groups, such as border police.”
But he also underlines how thanks to the generosity of Polish Catholics it has been possible to help refugees from Sudan, Nigeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
Since 2009, the Polish bishops have organised collections in their dioceses in aid of refugees, which are available not only to Christians.
Gratitude is owed to Catholics in Poland for having raised, in 2014 alone, more than €1.2 million for refugees, while Caritas in Poland currently assists more than 3,000 people annually, from Africa, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
In response to the appeal launched by Pope Francis last September, urging each parish, convent and shrine in Europe to welcome a family of refugees during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Presidency of the Polish Episcopal Conference wrote, “The Catholic Church in Poland, called to lend support to other people in a special way during the Year of Mercy, will do everything within her power to assist refugees in their dramatic situation.”
The Polish Episcopal Conference entrusted to Caritas Polska the responsibility for organising and coordinating initiatives relating to aid for refugees at diocesan level through the diocesan Caritas, and recalled the responsibility of national authorities for guaranteeing controls, safety, and basic services for refugees.