The director of Caritas Poland said on Thursday that the charity will continue to help those in need for as long as the Belarus border crisis lasts.
Speaking at a press conference in Podlipki, northeastern Poland, on Nov. 18, Fr. Marcin Iżycki stressed that the charity was also attentive to the needs of the local community near Poland’s eastern border.
“As long as the crisis lasts, we will be with all those in need. In our Caritas activities we try to remember all groups affected by the crisis: migrants and refugees, the inhabitants of these areas, and the services,” he said.
The priest was speaking amid an ongoing standoff between Poland and Belarus over the presence of thousands of mainly Middle Eastern migrants along the two countries’ roughly 250-mile border.
The Polish government, the European Union, and NATO have accused Belarus of helping the migrants to gather at the frontier and enter Poland, an EU member state since 2004. The Belarusian government, led by President Alexander Lukashenko, denies the claim.
Polish officials argue that Belarus, a landlocked Eastern European country, is fomenting the crisis in response to sanctions imposed by the EU after Lukashenko declared victory in a disputed presidential election in August 2020.
The border crisis has also affected Latvia and Lithuania, both EU member states neighboring Belarus.
Poland has fortified its border and repelled groups seeking to force their way across with tear gas and water cannons.
But the BBC reported on Friday that there were signs of a de-escalation in the crisis, with migrants abandoning a camp at Bruzgi, a border village in Belarus, for accommodation in a local warehouse. It also said that more than 400 Iraqis returned home from Belarus on a Nov. 18 flight organized by the Iraqi government.
Iżycki told journalists: “There is no contradiction in helping the needy and respecting the work of those who defend the security of our border and our country.”
The Catholic Church in Belarus has also actively supported migrants at the border. The Church’s website reported on Nov. 18 that representatives of Caritas Belarus had distributed food and warm clothing as temperatures plunged.
He also recalled that Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, recently condemned “the use of human tragedies by the Belarusian side to conduct actions against Poland’s sovereignty.”
“For this reason, I would like to repeat once again that those affected by this evil need our solidarity,” Gądecki commented.
Iżycki noted that Caritas Poland operates centers for new arrivals across Poland. The number of people placed in the centers has recently tripled, he said.
Fr. Cordian Szwarc, a Franciscan friar and deputy director of Caritas Poland, praised the response of Catholic parishes near the border.
“We have been here for two weeks now, and we see that the people who form these parishes are good people ... simple, good people who have learned from their grandparents what is good and what is bad.”
He added that whenever local residents encountered migrants asking for food, drink, or clothes, they helped them.
“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,” he said, noting that locals were concerned about their safety.
Caritas Poland has set up “Tents of Hope,” which collect food, clothing, and blankets, in seven parishes in the local Archdiocese of Białystok.
Fr. Jerzy Sęczek, director of Caritas in Białystok archdiocese, said that the organization had cooperated with Poland’s Border Guard since the start of the crisis.
He said that the officers, who are often members of local parishes, collected basic necessities from their churches and gave them directly to migrants at the border.