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The Afghan Refugees Stuck on Eastern Europe’s Border: The Gates of Mercy are Closed

The reasons for unveiled hostility can be traced deeply in historical chronicles: there is a centuries-long hatred towards the Ottomans among Eastern European nations.

Can man imagine oneself escaping from an imposed regime that has seized your homeland suddenly and abruptly? Like a thunder strike, life is henceforth divided into two separate phases: before and after.

Yesterday was peaceful and cloudless while today is overshadowed with uncertainty, disorientation, and anxiety. Family members go through feelings of cold loneliness and ultimate isolation. 

Man flees and at once enters the status of ‘’refugee’’. Under unpleasant life circumstances, there is no guarantee of security – everyone can be a refugee. A refugee of any gender, age, and social background undergo the analogous stages: exhaustion, hunger, or even starvation and meeting unwelcoming approach – the loss of hope and belief in compassion. 

How is it to look through a wired wall with the begging eyes and stretching out your hands for help or just for a bottle of water? How is it to arrive at unknown land and instantly be circled by border offices?

There are special geographical places stamped by historical dramatical events that have forever stayed aside like bright symbols. Guernica (Spanish city in Basque province) – the horrors of war, Stalingrad (now Volgograd in Russia) – the bloodiest battle ever happened in the world history, Leningrad (now Saint-Petersburg in Russia) – the persistence of its people under a severe blockage, and Srebrenica (genocide of Bosnian Muslims in 1995). Now it is the Panjshir valley (north-central Afghanistan) – a stoic resistance against the Taliban. 

Also to add to this is Usnarz Gorny, a village in the Polish-Belarussian borderline, a symbol of lost mercy.

But will it remain in historical memory furthermore?

Afghan asylum seekers stuck between acceptance and non-acceptance

Today’s world news focuses on the destiny of Afghanistan and its people, torn apart by decades of wars, invasion, terror, and violation of human rights, unease, and instability now under almost one month go through shock and anxiety after the Taliban takeover. 

In the middle of August, the unprecedented case of the pushback of refugees and the breaking of international law has happened. Groups of Afghans (more than 30 people) found themselves on the Polish-Belarusian border. From the Belorussian borderline, they were pressed further to the Polish area and stuck in a village called Usnarz Gorny, surrounded by hostile border guards and a vast forest.

Both countries did not show any willingness to accept Afghan asylum seekers even on a temporary basis, throwing responsibility to one another like a ball in a volleyball game. Minimum medical help was not delivered. To emphasize more – even food was not given. 

Human rights activists and some local people (who are not generally scared of foreigners) tried to help from the very beginning. Marta Gorczynska, a human rights activist, traveled there almost every day carrying some medicines and food but was constantly blocked by guards. International awareness, however, was not silenced and some weeks after the European Court of Human Rights called on Poland to intervene and to help with food, water, clothing, medical care, and if possible temporary shelter.

Gorczynska claimed that Poland refused to follow these instructions, saying that Afghans are on Belarus soil. Despite the Belarusian side claiming that they provided the Afghan people with food, in fact, it was not enough.

This case is unfortunately not the first on the long list of xenophobic or racist attitudes toward newcomers in Poland. Since the 2015 migration crisis Poland, following in the steps of its Visegrad partners Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, exemplified the fierce unwelcoming anti-immigrant policy. These countries form a kind of vicious quadrangle, a stonelike wall carrying out one clear-cut message: ‘’you are not accepted, go away from where you came!’’

Reluctantly, Poland agreed on quota, but its right-wing parliament backpedaled this decision. The anti-migrant propagandist machine has reached its goals: in May 2015, 72 percent of the Poles were in favour of refugees while in April 2016 its number decreased to 33 percent.

Were there some tiny exceptions? There was a gesture of pseudo mercy thrown like a gnawed bone to a hungry dog: in 2017 the Czech Republic boasted of the relocation of 12 Syrian refugees from Greece. A cynic counting: several persons instead of thousands

From an ordinary citizen’s perspective, the excuses sounded unreasonable and inappropriate. Simply speaking, it was formulated like a complaint on financial disability to accept the thousands of people. Yet in the first months of the crisis, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, de facto leader of the ruling party, raised concerns that the flood of unwanted people would cause instability in the society – even warning Polish citizens that refugees would spread diseases, parasites, and protozoa. Nowadays the content of explanations as to why people are not welcomed has not been changed significantly. 

Openly and arrogantly Poland had refused and till now refuses to give shelter to refugees from the Middle East. It was expected that Poland together with Hungary and the Czech Republic, would minimize loans of overcrowded Greece and Italy in the accommodation of Syrian refugees. About 160,000 people were supposed to be allocated in these Eastern European countries

Moreover, the shameful violation of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights was not alone. Under recent amendments, Polish law on refugees allows the legalization of pushbacks, sending people back to the border. 

Above all, Poland is an ethnically and religiously homogenous country – almost 90 percent declare themselves as Catholics – however, this mindset explicitly corrupts the pillars of Christian ethics. Poland is distinguished by the adamant adherence to the Catholic Church principles – but the spirit of mercy is disappearing.

During Youth Days in July 2016 in Krakow, Pope Francis urged to take in refugees and to show mercy. Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, who represents the more liberal wing of the Church, told the Rzeczpospolita newspaper that ‘’accepting a few hundred asylum seekers isn’t much of a problem for a country of 38 million’’.

“Not accepting refugees practically means resigning from being a Christian,” he said. “I’m ashamed of those who don’t want to do their duty not just as Christians but as human beings.”

Mercy requires practical embodiment. Islam insists on it in line with Christianity. According to At Tirmidhi, ‘’Those who show mercy will be shown mercy by the Merciful Lord. Show mercy to those on earth, and He Who is in the heavens will show mercy to you’’.

To learn from history?

Pro-refugee activists are reminded that in not so far-away historical precedents in the early 1980s, Poles who escaped the military commune regime were nicely accepted to settle in Western Europe (in the UK for example, where more than 1 million ethnic Poles live now).

The case of short-term memory takes place. During the tragic events of the Second World War, thousands of Poles were captured and sent to Siberian logging camps. Even small children were involved in changing birch logs to food. The 1941 situation changed when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union and Great Patriotic War (for Soviet nations) broke up. The Polish captives become Soviet allies at one moment.

The Poles were now given the dilemma of whether to join the Red Army or to compose their own army in Uzbekistan. Those who chose the second option – tens of thousands – went to the warmer climates in Central Asia. Poles even moved to Iran and India. The British allied forces helped to board oil barges and sail to port Pahlavi, Iran. Isfahan, an Iranian city, also gave shelter to Polish orphans. 

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Europe is not ready for the second migration crisis

Europe is overloaded with refugees. The ghost of the ‘’refugee problem’’ haunts European countries. The bowl of mercy is overflowing. The obligation of mercy prescribed by Christian ethics is neglected by so many European politicians who otherwise thrive on campaigns of Western Christian ethics. The pragmatic calculations of many of these political leaders are based on the fear of the repetition of the 2015 migration crisis. 

The leaders of France and Germany seek the way ‘’to protect ourselves against major irregular migratory flows’’. Armin Lashet, head of the Cristian Democratic Union and the most likely candidate to replace Angela Merkel, declared that ‘’2015 should not be repeated’’. Germany has accepted more than one million refugees despite the harsh critic of an open-door policy.

The issue with refugees – encapsulated simply to an uncomplicated formula ‘’to take or not to take’’ – is used as a bargaining chip in the hands of European politicians. The right-winged parties use harsh rhetoric against refugees, while for example, Sweden set itself aside with a more welcoming program. However, Good Samaritan law cannot be a mainstream value in the next election. The countries of Eastern Europe have shown a high level of hostility. 

Where to find lost mercy: Islam gives an answer

It is unlucky that European politicians have forgotten the heart-touching story of showing mercy like the Good Samaritan in the New Testament. The messages calling to mercy, however, are also prevailing in Al-Quran and in hadiths. 

Islam is a religion that imposes the feeling of mercy as a necessity and obligation to the believers. It is a direct act of will inspired by the sacral texts. Mercy is a cornerstone – a divine attribute revealed as an instruction from Allah. The opening surah ‘’Al Fatiha’’ opens with Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim. The names of Allah signify the infinite mercy only Allah is able to show. Bismillah is carefully recited by the Muslims on a wide number of occasions, as evidence of the high status of this attribute among the other 97 attributes of Allah.

Man is a weak creature, and for getting out of darkness man needs a candle as a guiding light. The ten commandments – including also the moral code of behaviour, teaches human beings to be merciful. Allah ordained mercy to Himself (Al-Quran 6:12). Allah forgives out of His endless mercy.

Without instructions revealed from God, people will remain in a state of beast-like relations and will fight with all against all. A human being is a creature that must be taught and guided in the right direction. Treating others, for examples enemies captured on the battlefield in a merciful way, requires enormous emotional forces: to convert anger to mercy is a challenge of a high caliber.

For example, the Ottoman Empire opened its gates to Muslims and Jews escaping persecution after the fall of Granada in the 15 century. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Polish immigrants found a safe haven on lands of the Ottoman Empire as well. Stanislaw Lenszczynski, driven to exile found a shelter in the status of al-Muahid. This is the nation that tends to suffer from historical amnesia and forgets the acts of pure mercy. 

To gauge causes of anti-migrant sentiments

A homogenous, pro-nationalistic society with the traumatic memory of captivity and humiliation during the Second World War and imposed communistic regimes made Poles centered on their victim ideology and hostility towards others. The reasons for unveiled hostility can be traced deeply in historical chronicles: there is a centuries-long hatred towards the Ottomans among Eastern European nations. The undeniable part of forming a national identity (for Visegrad countries, especially Poland) was an image of a bulwark to all the Catholic world while the Russian Empire‘s mythologized image (during Russian-Turkish) was the role of Russia as a saviour of Orthodox nations. 

The Polish people proudly defined themselves with a not so easy mission of protecting Catholicism. The pumping up of national moods in society is seen with present-day Polish president Andzej Duda when he manipulates historical facts. The victory in the battle in Vienna in 1683 that set an end to the Ottoman Empire’s ambitions to move deeper into Europe is widely celebrated, and the religious hues of the victory of Jan III Sobieski over the Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa are repeated today. The image of Sobieski as ‘’saviour of Christendom’’ is reincarnated alongside debates on the future of Europe with the “invasion” of Muslim refugees

Mapping possible scenarios

Whether Europe distributes the burden of migrants in just proportions among EU members or will implement hypocritical tactics of using the four Visegrad countries (unluckily famous for their anti-migrant policy) as a protecting shield against unwelcomed people from the Middle East and Africa is yet to be determined.

A Europe that lures thousands of desperate people from underdeveloped countries with social beneficiaries and a high standard of living becomes more and more isolated. Europe remains an unfulfilled dream-like destination.


References

Afghan Migrants Remain Stranded: Poland Belarus Border

Taking a Closer Look at the Polish Rejection of Refugees

Poland, Hungary, and Czechia Broke Law By Refusing To Accept Refugees – Top EU Court Rules

Nationalism and Religion Explain Why Poland Doesn’t Want Refugees

A Polish Girl’s Journey Across Three Continents

Europe Fears a Repeat of the 2015 Refugee Crisis as Afghanistan Collapses

Syrian Refugees Find A Safe-Haven In Germany

Mercy in the Quran

Eastern Europe and Islam

Polish King and Battle of Vienna

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