Polish Muslim leader helps feed immigrants and soldiers
Bohoniki – Maciej Szczęsnowicz cried when he first saw migrants at the border, hungry and exhausted from the ordeal of stumbling while trying to enter from Belarus.
The head of the local Muslim community in the village of Bohoniki in eastern Poland, Szczęsnowicz, saw the people so tired they could no longer stand, so hungry that they pick mushrooms from the ground to eat and when given an apple, they eat the seeds.
But what hurts him most is hearing the voices of their suffering.
“It’s the sound of children crying and screaming, it’s the worst thing,” he said.
As Poland saw migrants from the Middle East crossing from Belarus into an area of forests and swamps, Shchenovic worked to help collect clothes and prepare food for them.
A large number of migrants turned up this week at the Polish border, intensifying the political standoff between the European Union and Belarus. With troops amassed at the border, Szczęsnowicz also helps feed the soldiers and other service members who protect the country.
The AP visited him on Saturday at a restaurant where he and other volunteers were preparing a large pot of steamed chicken and vegetable soup. It was destined for soldiers and other guards at the border, but he hopes some will also make their way to the migrants.
While the border area has been off-limits due to a state of emergency in place since early September, his delivery of soup to the border has given him access others don’t – and a glimpse into the suffering of people through Belarus’ barbed wire fences.
Thousands of migrants have been trying for months to sneak across Poland’s eastern border from Belarus, hoping to make their way toward Western Europe.
For Polish and European Union politicians, the arrival of migrants, mostly Muslims from the Middle East, is seen as a problem that must be stopped.
But there are a large number of Poles who simply see humans as needing a helping hand and are looking for ways to help them. Paramedics went into the forest to provide medical assistance to those who managed to slip in. They are often sick or injured. Meanwhile, people across the country have been donating money to organizations that take food and other aid to migrants in the forests.
Most volunteers are Roman Catholic, as in their country, but Szczęsnowicz heads the Muslim community in Bohoniki, where a small minority descended from the group of Muslim Tatars who settled in the area 600 years ago still lives.
However, he says his Muslim identity is only secondary when it comes to helping immigrants.
“We are supposed to help everyone who entered the Polish border. Everyone, yes, because they are human,” he said.
Already the situation in the region can be deadly, with nine deaths reported so far, including the killing of a young Syrian on Saturday. The risks increase as winter approaches.
Szczęsnowicz fears that “here there will simply be more deaths”.
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