Non-white refugees fleeing Ukraine detained in EU immigration facilities

Of note:

Non-white students who have fled Ukraine have been detained by EU border authorities in what has been condemned as “clearly discriminatory” and “not acceptable”.

An investigation by The Independent, in partnership with Lighthouse Reports and other media partners, reveals that Ukraine residents of African origin who have crossed the border to escape the war have been placed in closed facilities, with some having been there for a number of weeks.

At least four students who have fled Vladimir Putin’s invasion are being held in a long-term holding facility Lesznowola, a village 40km from the Polish capital Warsaw, with little means of communication with the outside world and no legal advice.

One of the students said they were stopped by officials as they crossed the border and were given “no choice” but to sign a document they did not understand before they were then taken to the camp. They do not know how long they will be held there.

A Nigerian man currently detained said he was “scared” about what will happen to him after being held in the facility for more than three weeks.

Polish border police have confirmed that 52 third-country nationals who have fled Ukraine are currently being held in detention facilities in Poland.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said they were aware of three other facilities in Poland where people non-Ukrainians who have fled the war are being detained.

Separately, a Nigerian student who fled the Russian invasion is understood to have been detained in Estonia after travelling to the country to join relatives, and is now being threatened with deportation

This is despite a EU protection directive dated 4 March which states that third country nationals studying or working in Ukraine should be admitted to the EU temporarily on humanitarian grounds.

Maria Arena, chair of the EU parliament’s subcommittee on human rights, said: “International students in Ukraine, as well as Ukrainians, are at risk and risking their lives in the country. Detention, deportation or any other measure that does not grant them protection is not acceptable.”

The findings of the investigation, which was carried out in collaboration with Lighhtouse Reports, Spiegal, Mediapart and Radio France, comes after it emerged that scores of Black and Asian refugees fleeing Ukraine were experiencing racial discrimination while trying to make border crossing last month.

‘They took us here to the camp… I’m scared’

Gabriel*, 29, had been studying trade and economics in Kharkov before war broke out. The Nigerian national left the city and arrived at the border on 27 February, where he says his phone was confiscated by Polish border guards and he was given “no option” but to sign a form he did not understand.

“It was written in Polish. I didn’t know what I was signing. I said I wouldn’t sign, but they insisted I signed it and that if not I would go to jail for five months,” he said in a recorded conversation with a Nigerian activist.

The student said he was then taken to court, where there was no interpreter to translate what was being said so that he could understand, and then taken to a detention centre in the small village of Lesznowola.

“It is a closed camp inside a forest,” said Gabriel, speaking from the facility. “There’s no freedom. Some people have been here more than nine months. Some have gone mad. I’m scared.

“We escaped Ukraine very horrible experience, the biggest risk of my life […] Everything was scary and I thought that was the end of it. And now we are in detention.”

Gabriel said there are at least two other Nigerian students in the camp, along with students from Cameroon, Ghana, the Ivory Coast and French African nations.

Guards at the centre said inmates have their mobile phones confiscated, with only those who have a second sim card given a phone without a camera.

Many can only communicate with the outside world via email – and even this is said to be limited to certain times.

Another individual detained at the centre is Paul, 20, a Cameroonian who had been studying management and language at Agrarian University Bila Tserkva in Kyiv for six months when the war started.

His brother, Victor, who is in Cameroon, said Paul had told him that he had been apprehended while crossing the border and that on 2 March, a Polish judge ordered that he be transferred to Lesznowola detention centre.

“From his explanation, the camp doesn’t seem like one that welcomes people fleeing from the war in Ukraine. It’s a camp that has been existing and has people that came to seek for asylum. No one knows why he is being detained,” he said.

Victor said that Paul was given seven days to appeal the decision to detain him, but that he has been unable to access the internet in order to file the appeal in time.

“Since that day he filed the appeal, police and guards try to restrict them. He used to get five minutes of internet but on that day they stopped letting them use the internet. The phone he used to communicate with me was blocked. Maybe it’s because they realised that the issue was taking on a legal dimension,” he said.

‘He’s not allowed to be in Estonia’

This investigation has also heard reports that a Nigerian student, Reuben, is facing deportation from Estonia after being detained having fled the war in Ukraine.

Prior to his arrival in the eastern European country, 32-year-old Reuben emailed the head of International House, a service centre that helps internationals in Estonia to communicate with the state, explaining that he wanted to join his cousin living in the country.

The head of the organisation Leonardo Ortega responded by letter that he may relocate to Estonia.

Reuben, who attended Bila Tserkva National Agrarian University in Ukraine and is married to a Ukrainian woman, arrived on 9 March through Poland with his cousin Peter.

After being delayed for three hours at the Estonia border, the pair were escorted to a police station, according to Peter, 30, who has an Estonian residency permit.

He said three police officers escorted his cousin away with his luggage and said he would be detained for two days themn deported back to Nigeria.

The officers reportedly advised that the 32-year-old would be banned from entering any Schengen country for the next five years; his phone was confiscated and he’s been in detention since.

“A few officers said ‘he’s not allowed to be in Estonia’. Even after asking for international protection, we were told that my cousin needs to have a lawyer to fight his case, but most of the lawyers I initially contacted refused to take my cousin’s case,” said Peter.

“He received an email in advance saying it was okay to come – and after everything we went through, the next thing they want to deport and ban him for five years. I don’t know why deportation came into the picture.”

Criney, a London-based campaigner who has been supporting the affected students on a voluntary basis, said there was an “emerging pattern of arbitrary detention of students coming out of Ukraine fleeing the war”.

“There are other cases in Austria and Germany with regards to students who have applied for asylum or asked for permits to remain,” the campaigner said.

Detained ‘for the purpose of identity verification’

The EU directive on 4 March aims to help refugees fleeing the invasion to stay for at least one year in one country and also have access to the labour market and education.

It states that it also applies to “nationals of third countries other than Ukraine residing legally in Ukraine who are unable to return in safe and durable conditions to their country or region of origin”.

This can include third-country nationals who were studying or working in Ukraine, it states, adding that this cohort should “in any event be admitted into the union on humanitarian grounds”, without requiring valid travel documents, to ensure “safe passage with a view to returning to their country or region of origin”.

Michał Dworczyk, a top aide to the Polish prime minister, said when war broke out that “everyone escaping the war will be received in Poland, including people without passports”.

But the Polish government has admitted that it is sending some of this cohort to closed facilities once they cross the border.

In a tweet on 2 March, the Polish ministry of internal affairs and administration said: “Ukrainians are fleeing the war, people of other nationalities are also fleeing. All those who do not have documents and cannot prove Ukrainian citizenship are carefully checked. If there is a need, they go to closed detention centres.”

In a letter to a member of the EU Parliament, Poland’s border police admitted that 52 third country nationals who had fled from Ukraine had been taken to closed detention centres in the first three weeks of the war.

The letter stated that this was necessary “to carry out administrative proceedings for granting international protection or issuing a decision on obliging a foreigner to return”.

Ryan Schroeder, press officer at the IOM, said the organisation was aware of three other facilities in Poland where “third-country nationals arriving from Ukraine, who lack proper travel documentation, are brought to for the purpose of identity verification”.

The Polish government, the Polish police and the Estonian authorities declined to comment on the allegations.

A spokesperson for the Polish border force said it “couldn’t give any detail about the procedures on foreigners because of the protection on personal data”, adding that it is “the court which takes the decision each time to place people in guarded centres for foreigners”.

‘Clearly unsatisfactory and discriminatory’

Steve Peers, a professor of EU law in the UK, says that even if member states choose not to apply temporary protection to legal residents of Ukraine, they should give them “simplified entry, humanitarian support and safe passage to their country of origin”.

“In my view this is obviously a case where students could not have applied for a visa and might not meet the other usual criteria to cross the external borders, yet there are overwhelming reasons to let them cross the border anyway on humanitarian grounds. There are no good grounds for immigration detention in the circumstances,” he added.

Jeff Crisp, a former head of policy, development and evaluation at UNHCR, said it was “clearly unsatisfactory and discriminatory” for third country nationals who have fled from Ukraine to be held in detention centres in EU states, “not least because of the trauma they will have experienced in their efforts to leave Ukraine and find safety elsewhere”.

He added: “They should be released immediately and treated on an equal basis with all others who have been forced to leave Ukraine.”

It comes after the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi warned this week that, although he had been “humbled” by the outpouring of support seen by communities welcoming Ukrainian refugees, many minorities – often foreigners who had been studying or working there – had described a very different experience.

“We also bore witness to the ugly reality, that some Black and Brown people fleeing Ukraine – and other wars and conflicts around the world – have not received the same treatment as Ukrainian refugees,” he said.

“They reported disturbing incidents of discrimination, violence, and racism. These acts of discrimination are unacceptable, and we are using our many channels and resources to make sure that all people are protected equally.”

Mr Grandi appealed to countries, in particular those neighbouring Ukraine, to continue to allow entry to anyone fleeing the conflict “without discrimination on grounds of race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin and regardless of their immigration status”.

*Names have been changed

Source: Non-white refugees fleeing Ukraine detained in EU immigration facilities

Inside Poland’s Drastic Immigration Reversal

Sharp contrast but understandable:

For the largely Middle Eastern migrants arriving in Poland during the fall 2021 border crisis with Belarus, the reception was chilly – in more ways than one. After trudging through freezing temperatures, many were met at the Polish border by armed soldiers who pushed them back, at times violently.

Following the crisis, in which Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko enticed thousands of Middle Eastern asylum seekers into his country and then funneled them west, the Polish government started construction of a fence spanning 115 miles along the Polish-Belarusian border.

The moves to strengthen the border were largely supported by the Polish public, which has generally opposed resettling Middle Eastern refugees in the country. In 2015, during the Syrian refugee crisis, thousands of Poles marched through Warsaw’s streets, chanting, “Today refugees, tomorrow terrorists!” In 2016, 73% of the Polish population said they viewed refugees from places like Iraq and Syria as a “threat to their country.”

Now, during the second full week of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, Polish rhetoric surrounding refugees has taken a dramatic turn.

“We will do everything to provide safe shelter in Poland for everyone who needs it,” Poland’s interior minister, Mariusz Kaminski, said to journalists at the beginning of the crisis.

Poles have similarly lent their voices and even homes to support the roughly 1.2  million Ukrainians who have poured into their country. They have distributed food, raised funds, and organized medical convoys to give aid to their besieged neighbor and its residents.

In fact, relative to other EU member states – namely Italy, Germany, and Finland, France, Romania, and Sweden – Poland citizens indicated the greatest willingness to host Ukrainian refugees, according to a poll taken by the European Council on Foreign Relations in late January.

Why the radical shift? Experts attribute Poland’s initial embrace of Ukrainian refugees to the pre-existing Ukrainian population in the country, as well as to historical and cultural ties. In other words: proximity and similarity.

Despite the recent virulence aimed at Middle Eastern refugees, experts say anti-immigration attitudes aren’t long-standing in Polish society and have roots in the Syrian refugee crisis that shook the European Union just seven years ago.

“If you look at the 1990s and early 2000s, migration was not a politicized topic… At that stage, Poles were getting more and more open toward other nations,” says Marta Kindler, a sociologist and research fellow at the University of Warsaw’s Center of Migration Research.

Then came the 2015 migration crisis and the election the same year of Poland’s current right-wing, populist Law and Justice Party, whose platform stoked the flames of nationalism and xenophobia with alarmist tales of “severe diseases” from non-European migrants.

Following the party’s significant victory, Kindler says that “hostile attitudes, especially toward Muslim migrants” were allowed to openly proliferate among Poles, resulting years later, during the Belarusian conflict, in what she believes to be “racism at the border.”

The current migrant crisis, of course, is sending thousands of mostly white, mostly Christian refugees to the border. And while several factors are likely contributing to the warm embrace Poles are giving to Ukrainian refugees, race is likely one of them, Kindler says.

“It is clear that this is unfortunately on a racist and ethnic basis,” she says. “This is an issue that I think is right now really striking.”

Poles are fairly accustomed to seeing Ukrainians inside their borders, and experts say that familiarity as well as the cultural similarities shared by the countries may be the driving forces behind the altruism exhibited by Poles this time around.

Though Poland remains a fairly homogenous society, Ukrainians make up the largest group of foreigners in the country, at 57%. The Polish government says 300,000 Ukrainians currently hold residence permits in the country. However many more are likely in Poland through the visa-free agreement between the two countries. The New York Times put the total number of Ukrainian citizens in the country before the Russian invasion at around 1 million.

Many came for economic opportunities following the fall of the Iron Curtain. At the time, Poland in particular had developed a reputation as a country with ample economic opportunities and higher wages relative to some of its neighbors.

“[During the 1990s] the situation in Ukraine was very poor,” Kindler says. “It was not so much that people were unemployed in Ukraine, but that they earned so little that they were not able to support their households.”

Ukrainians once again set out for Poland in large numbers in 2014 and 2014 as a result of their country’s economic and security situation. The two countries also have some linguistic overlap. As of 2020, at least a third of Ukrainians had at least a basic command of the Polish language, according to a survey.

Another factor likely influencing how Poland is reacting to Ukrainian refugees is the shared concern both countries have about Russian expansion.

“There’s also the geographical proximity to the current events in Ukraine, which makes people also feel personally threatened,” says Hanne Beirens, a director at the Migration Policy Institute Europe. “There’s explosions only 70 kilometers away from the Polish border. I think that’s also feeding into how people are responding.”

For many Poles, the specter of Soviet oppression still takes a toll on the collective psyche.

“There’s also a historical dimension that weighs in into this, which is the memory of suffered repressions of Polish citizens [in the days of the Soviet Union]. So that’s very much still alive in the collective memory in Poland,” Beirens says. “Hence, there’s this kind of sympathy or empathy with what Ukrainians are experiencing at this very moment in time.”

But as the crisis continues to unfold and the numbers swell, many wonder whether the goodwill will persist.

Despite the current rapport between the countries, the relationship between them has historically been fraught. Tensions were briefly reignited in 2016 following a decision by Poland to label the killings of Poles by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army during World War II as a “genocide.” During 2016 and 2017, violence against Ukrainians escalated, with more than 44,000 cases of hate crimes against Ukrainians in a single Polish region.

“I’m just hoping for society in general, this solidarity that is being shown right now will not be temporary, and that it will not fade away,” Kindler says.

Source: Inside Poland’s Drastic Immigration Reversal

Falling birth rates are not an existential crisis for Central and Eastern Europe, but an opportunity

Of note:

A growing number of countries – including two in Central and Eastern Europe – are adopting coercive pronatal policies in a bid to make women have more children, a new report has found.


The report, Welcome to Gilead, raises serious concerns about the abuse of reproductive rights by nationalistic governments, echoing the pronatal dystopia of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The report, produced by UK charity Population Matters, details how right-wing, populist and/or nationalist administrations are stigmatising women who choose to have smaller families as unpatriotic and describes how policies intended to limit women’s reproductive choices are linked to population goals.

“Coercive pronatalism is not simply a manifestation of patriarchy or misogyny but can be a product of political and economic forces entirely indifferent to women, for whom they exist simply as productive or non-productive wombs,” says Population Matters Director Robin Maynard.

“These regimes are instrumentalising women’s bodies to serve nationalistic, economic and patriarchal interests. Violating sexual and reproductive health and rights is never justified. It is imperative we all defend them, wherever they are threatened, and for whatever reason.”

In many countries, leaders fear the impact on their economic and political goals of women choosing to have fewer children.

As a result, the percentage of countries with pronatal policies grew from 10 per cent in 1976 to 28 per cent in 2015, according to the UN’s most recent data.

Not all such policies abuse reproductive rights, but increasing numbers are doing so.

The report examines examples of such restrictions in China, Iran, Russia, and Turkey, as well as the emerging Europe states of Hungary and Poland.

It identifies how politicians in the US and Germany are starting to promote the same agenda and policies.

It details in particular how pronatalism is often linked to a restrictive, patriarchal “pro-family” agenda and the promotion of ethnic nationalism, based frequently on religious orthodoxy and hostility to multiculturalism and immigration.

These motivations include subscription at the highest political level to the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory that Christian and European culture and civilisation will be extinguished by immigration from Muslim countries and high birth rates among immigrants.

Population Matters Policy Adviser Monica Scigliano, who wrote the report, says: “When people think of coercive population policy, their minds often go to examples like China and India, in which leaders wanted to limit population growth by forcing women to have fewer children.

“Now, however, with birth rates declining and in some cases emigration reversing population trends, that has changed.

“As people continue to choose smaller families, more governments across the world are resorting to coercive tactics, depriving people of their reproductive rights in order to increase their populations.

“In particular, nationalistic agendas can lead to a toxic brand of pronatalism that represents an almost inevitable threat to sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

Hungary and Poland

In Hungary, the right-wing populist government of Viktor Orbán is now inching towards a total abortion ban. Orbán states, “we want Hungarian children. Migration for us is surrender”.

Earlier this year, former US Vice President Mike Pence told a summit in the Hungarian capital Budapest that “plummeting birth rates” represent “a crisis that strikes at the very heart of civilisation”, adding that he hoped the US Supreme Court would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling.

In Poland meanwhile, the ruling populist and pronatalist Law and Justice party recently increased abortion restrictions, banning abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormalities, which had been the reason for 98 per cent of all abortions in the country. Its law has recently claimed its first victim, a pregnant woman named Izabela who died after being denied an emergency operation because doctors insisted on waiting until they could no longer detect her baby’s heartbeat.

Polish reproductive rights campaigner Antonina Lewandowska, who wrote the foreword to the report, says:

“The Polish pronatalist movement drove doctors into such a state of fear that they would rather let Izabela go into septic shock than terminate the pregnancy earlier and save her life. They are terrified of prosecution and stigma, as the pro-natalist/anti-choice movements would probably eat them alive.

“On the other hand, there is a group of medical professionals that are rather comfortable with the current situation, as it lets them argue that medical negligence happens due to that ‘freezing effect’ of an abhorrent law rather then their own incompetence, mistake or deliberate choice to not provide their patients with necessary medical care – an abortion – due to their personal beliefs.

“In both cases, it is clear – aggressive, fundamentalist pronatalism paved the way for violating human rights in Poland.”

The economic value of older people

Central and Eastern Europe’s demographic decline has until now been presented as an existential problem. But have we been looking at the issue from the wrong perspective?

Even relatively poor countries such as Romania and Bulgaria are currently placing more demands on the renewable resources of their land than it can provide, and lower populations reduce that demand, as well as relieving pressure on biodiversity.

“Romania is one of Europe’s more biodiverse countries, for instance, with great forest cover and wetlands in the Danube Delta – both of value to the world, not just Romania,” Alistair Currie, head of campaigns and communications at Population Matters tells Emerging Europe.

“As it becomes more affluent, it has an opportunity to manage that land and natural environment more sustainably. Agriculture is the primary driver of habitat loss, and where countries aren’t scrambling to feed their populations through intensive agriculture and monocultures, that can give nature a break.”

Fears of labour shortages are often exaggerated because of continued population growth and automation, but Currie suggests that any shortages which do arise can be addressed through measures such as increasing labour force participation, judicious immigration policies, further automation and increasing retirement age.

“Fiscal challenges presented by ageing populations can be solved by pension reform, increasing the productivity of older workers, later retirement, investment in preventative health to reduce associated health care costs, and, where appropriate, equitable increases in tax,” he says.

“One thing that really came out strongly in our research is the economic value of older people. That means things like potentially increasing retirement age – low across much of Central and Eastern Europe. To do that, you do need healthy populations, however, which requires investment in preventative health care.

“Pronatal policies, meanwhile, are not productive. They’re often costly, in the short term they increase the number of dependent children, and in the longer term, they drive up consumption and resource use.”

Source: Falling birth rates are not an existential crisis for Central and Eastern Europe, but an opportunity

Poland Gets Support From Europe on Tough Borders

Good example of “weaponization” of refugees:

The migration crisis of 2015, when millions of migrants and asylum seekers surged over Europe’s borders, nearly tore apart the European Union. Many members offered asylum to the refugees; others, like Poland and Hungary, wanted no part of it.

Six years later, the current standoff at the border of Poland and Belarus has echoes of that crisis, but this time, European officials insist that member states are united when it comes to defending Europe’s borders and that uncontrolled immigration is over.

What is different, the Europeans say, is that this crisis is entirely manufactured by the dictator of Belarus, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, as a response to sanctions that the Europeans imposed on his country in the face of a stolen election and a vicious repression of domestic dissent.

“This area between the Poland and Belarus borders is not a migration issue, but part of the aggression of Lukashenko toward Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, with the aim to destabilize the E.U.,” Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs, said in an interview over the summer.

The crisis began in late August, when growing groups of migrants, mostly from the Middle East, began massing at the borders of Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, shepherded there by Belarus. That movement has now become much larger, with at least 4,000 or more men, women and children trapped in the freezing cold, without proper shelter or toilets, between Belarus and its neighbors.

Both Poland and Lithuania declared states of emergency and fortified their borders, while Belarusian forces have in some cases aided the migrants in breaking through. The border regions have been shut to journalists and aid workers, but upsetting videos and pictures of the migrants facing barbed wire have been distributed, often by Belarus itself.

On Wednesday, the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, called Mr. Lukashenko’s tactics a “cynical power play” and said that blackmail must not be allowed to succeed. In Washington the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, met President Biden and emerged to say that what was transpiring on the Belarus border is “a hybrid attack, not a migration crisis.”

Source: Poland Gets Support From Europe on Tough Borders

Losing steam, Polish government plays immigration card

Sad but not unexpected:

As it loses steam in the polls, Poland’s right-wing populist government is playing the anti-immigration card that helped it win in 2015, hoping to take back the political initiative, analysts said.

Thousands of migrants — most of them from the Middle East — have crossed from Belarus into eastern EU states, including Poland, in recent months.

The EU suspects the influx is engineered by the Belarusian regime in retaliation against increasingly stringent EU sanctions, with Poland the Baltic states calling it a “hybrid attack”.

Political attention in Poland in recent weeks has focused on a group of around 30 migrants camped out on the border between Poland and Belarus.

Poland is refusing to let in the migrants, said to be Afghans by a charity trying to help them, or give them aid without the consent of Belarus.

“It cannot be ruled out that there will be early elections next year… and it is by no means certain that the Law and Justice (PiS) party will win a majority or manage to piece together a coalition,” said Agata Szczesniak, a political analyst for the news portal OKO.press.

The government lost its formal parliamentary majority earlier this month after the departure of a junior coalition partner.

A recent poll by Kantar also found that PiS had fallen by three points in the polls and is now neck-and-neck with the main opposition grouping, Civic Platform, at 26 percent.

“To go back up in the polls, PiS is trying to replay what happened in 2015 but even more so. It is focusing public emotion around the image and rhetoric of a war” against migrants, Szczesniak said.

During Europe’s migration crisis of 2015, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski scored electoral points in parliamentary elections that year with his anti-immigration rhetoric, including warnings about the diseases and “all sorts of parasites” that the migrants might bring with them.

– ‘Holy Polish territory’ –

The government has remained intransigent over the migrants on the border even after multiple appeals from the UN refugee agency, the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said he is protecting “holy Polish territory”.

Dressed in military-style wear, he has visited the border to announce the building of a fence.

Culture Minister Piotr Glinski has promised to “defend Poland against migrants” and Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak has sent 2,000 soldiers to the border.

“What is happening at the border is political gold” for the government, said former EU chief Donald Tusk, now head of Civic Platform.

Adam Szostkiewicz, a political commentator for the weekly Polityka, said the government was “building its election campaign around this”.

But analysts pointed out that public feeling around the issue has changed in recent years.

Many Poles sympathise with Afghans and are growing used to higher levels of immigration in the country, particularly of Ukrainians and Belarusians.

“At the time, around 70 percent of Poles said they were opposed to letting in refugees. Today, it is 55 percent,” said Szczesniak.

– Confusion –

The government may also be sending a mixed message.

In recent days, it has also evacuated almost 1,000 Afghans who worked for Poland’s military contingent.

“On the one hand, the PiS is helping Afghans and on the other it is rejecting them. This creates confusion,” said Szczesniak.

Szostkiewicz said the fact that the crisis could be orchestrated by Minsk “does not justify the lack of basic empathy… and Poles can see that”.

The situation of the group blocked at the border has also prompted pleas from Poland’s Catholic Church, which is traditionally close to the current government.

Poland’s leading Catholic clergyman, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, has appealed for political leaders “to be guided above all by the spirit of hospitality, respect for new arrivals and goodwill”.

Source: Losing steam, Polish government plays immigration card

Poland, Israel in diplomatic spat over Poland’s property law

Ongoing Polish government denial:

Poland and Israel have summoned each other’s diplomats in a growing dispute over Poland’s planned changes to property restitution rules that Israel and Jewish organizations say would prevent Jewish claims for compensation or property seized during the Holocaust and communist times.

On Monday, Israeli charge d ’affaires ​Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon met with Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski, who insisted the new regulations do not bar any property claims, which should be made through courts. Poland also says it mustn’t be made responsible for property seizures by Nazi Germany during its World War II occupation of Poland.

“These regulations are not directed against anyone,” Jablonski said, adding that there is a lot of misunderstanding of their aim as they give the law a steady framework.

Jablonski later said Ben-Ari Yaalon repeated the embassy’s statement from last week, which called the new regulations “immoral” and said they “will have a serious impact” on bilateral relations.

Poland’s ambassador to Israel, Marek Magierowski, was at the Israeli Foreign Ministry on Sunday, explaining the new regulations made to align with a 2015 ruling by the top constitutional court.

Poland’s parliament is processing the changes to prevent ownership and other administrative decisions from being declared void after 30 years. It says this is a response to fraud and irregularities that have emerged in the restitution process. The changes still require approval from the Senate and the president.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization said it was “deeply disappointed” by Poland’s response to the concerns.

“The house or shop or factory in a town in Poland affected by this legislation was not taken by Germany, it was taken by Poland. It sits today in Poland and its use has benefited Poland for over 70 years. It is time to recognize this fact and for Poland to do justice for those who suffered so much,” said the group’s chief, Gideon Taylor.

Last week, the U.S. State Department weighed in, with spokesperson Ned Price tweeting that the changes were a “step in the wrong direction” and urged Poland “not to move this legislation forward.”

Before World War II, Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community of some 3.5 million people. Most were killed in the Holocaust under Nazi Germany’s occupation and their property was confiscated. Poland’s post-war communist authorities seized those properties, along with the property of non-Jewish owners in Warsaw and other cities. The end of communism in 1989 opened the door to restitution claims, most of which would be coming from Poles.

The still unresolved matter has been a constant source of bitterness and political tension between Poland and Israel.

In 2001, a draft law foreseeing compensation for seized private property was approved in parliament but vetoed by President Aleksander Kwasniewski. He claimed it violated social equality principles and would hurt Poland’s economic development, implying that compensation claims would result in large payouts. He also said individual claims should be made through the courts.

Poland is the only European country that has not offered any compensation for private property seized by the state in its recent history. Only the remaining communal Jewish property, like some synagogues, prayer houses and cemeteries, mostly in disrepair, have been returned where possible or compensated for.

Source: Poland, Israel in diplomatic spat over Poland’s property law

Museum exhibits works by Polish artist confronting Holocaust

Of note:

Warsaw’s Jewish history museum opened an exhibition Thursday featuring works by a renowned Polish artist that confront the lingering and melancholy presence of the Holocaust in Poland, where Nazi German forces carried out their destruction of Europe’s Jews and other atrocities.

“Wilhem Sasnal: Such a Landscape” opened Thursday at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The dozens of paintings and drawings on display confront the Holocaust in the nation’s physical and mental landscape and the difficulty in addressing an unsettled past.

Sasnal, who is not Jewish, has for two decades been grappling with this history. The 48-year-old described a generational need to confront the past, also because parts of Polish society refuse to acknowledge that while Poland was victimized by Nazi Germany, there were also some Poles who joined in the despoliation and murder of the nation’s Jews.

For decades after World War II, such discussions were taboo, with the themes of Polish sacrifice and honor dominating historical memory. But with the new openness that came with the fall of communism in 1989, scholars and artists began studying and speaking openly of anti-Semitism and the participation by some Poles in the German crimes. Each new book or film has touched a raw nerve.

“The history of the Second World War was obscured until 1989,” Sasnal said.

It was then “extremely shocking,” he said, when scholars began to reveal wartime wrongdoing by Poles, including the 1941 killing of hundreds of Jews by Poles in the town of Jedwabne.

“At the beginning I felt anger and shame,” he told The Associated Press.

“And it’s still so difficult to see that people don’t want to acknowledge it. People totally refuse, and this is the mainstream Polish government attitude.”

Sasnal is one of Poland’s most prominent living artists. His works are included in collections at the Museum of Modern Art and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Tate Modern in London and Centre Pompidou in Paris, among others.

Sasnal also acknowledged that Poland is often unfairly judged — that sometimes those outside of Poland lose sight of the bigger picture.

Poland was occupied by German forces who killed millions of Polish citizens — some 2 million Christian Poles as well as 3 million Jews. Many Poles fought the Germans at home and abroad and the state never collaborated with Nazi Germany. Thousands of Poles have also been recognized by Yad Vashem for risking their own lives to save Jews.

Yet Sasnal believes that Poles must acknowledge the bad along with the good.

“Unless we accept such a complex past, we will be judged and we will be misjudged,” he said.

The exhibition comprises two decades of works that touch in some way on the Holocaust — works that Sasnal did while also dealing with other topics.

The oldest ones were inspired by cartoonist Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust cartoon stories in his “Maus” books. The newest ones were created this year especially for the exhibition.

There are paintings of former death camps, but they are always contextualized, with Sasnal’s bike or his wife looking from inside a car at the gates of Auschwitz — because to depict the death camps alone would be too banal and brutal, he said.

The Auschwitz paintings were produced after he and his wife passed by the memorial site on their way home from a New Year’s Eve party on Jan. 1. Millions travel to the site from around the world. But for many Poles — including Sasnal, who lives in nearby Krakow — the presence of genocide memorial sites are part of the landscape of daily life.

A painting of an imagined map of Poland bordering Israel recalls the long co-existence of Jews with Poles in Poland, a Jewish homeland for centuries.

A portrait of Hitler has been covered in black paint and crossed out with a wooden bar, an evil too extreme to depict figuratively.

Paintings that draw on images first created by French painter Edgar Degas, an antisemite, are reminders of the antisemitism pervasive across Europe that created fertile soil for the Holocaust. One evokes a bathing women modeled on a Degas work superimposed with a swastika.

Paintings of Gypsies or stereotypical images of Africans in the popular imagination show how other groups, along with Jews, have long been considered the “other” in society.

Ahead of the opening, the curator, Adam Szymczyk, braced for the possibility that this exhibition, too, might spark anger from nationalists and right-wingers.

But now that a right-wing party runs the country — and is a co-partner in the museum, which is a public-private partnership — he said he expected the reaction to be more muted.

He said both he and Sasnal were driven by a need to express remorse.

“I think this is our way of saying sorry on behalf of others,” he said. “The others don’t say ‘I’m sorry’ so we have to. It’s a duty.”

The exhibition runs until January 10.

Source: Museum exhibits works by Polish artist confronting Holocaust

Auschwitz inmates’ families oppose ex-PM on museum council

Of note:

Relatives of former Auschwitz prisoners from Poland are protesting the appointment of a top member of the country’s right-wing ruling party to an advisory council at the state-run Auschwitz-Birkenau museum in Poland.

They argue that the former prime minster, Beata Szydlo, has tolerated “openly fascist” groups and supported attempts to stifle research into the Holocaust, among other complaints.

Szydlo was appointed in April to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Council, a body of experts that advises the museum director. That prompted three members of the nine-member panel of experts to resign, followed by a fourth resignation reported this week.

On Friday evening, the news portal Onet carried a letter signed by children and grandchildren of former Polish prisoners, as well as one Auschwitz survivor, addressed to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

They did not want Szydlo because of her and the ruling Law and Justice party’s strong opposition to accepting refugees and the conservative party’s attempts in the past to win over voters on the extreme right.

“We remember statements that excluded refugees, the undermining of achievements of Holocaust researchers, the toleration of openly fascist organizations, and finally denying European Union alliances,” they wrote to Morawiecki, according to the letter quoted by Onet. “We do not agree to this.”

Early on during World War II, the German forces operated Auschwitz as a camp for Polish prisoners, including Catholic clergy and members of the resistance. They later created nearby Birkenau for the mass killing of Jews from across Europe. In all, some 1.1 million people were murdered at the site located today in southern Poland.

Among those who signed the letter to Morawiecki were the son and two granddaughters of Capt. Witold Pilecki, one of the most notable heroes of the Polish resistance. Pilecki volunteered to be an Auschwitz inmate and smuggled out reports of atrocities there before fleeing. He was tortured and executed in a show trial by communists after the war.

There were no immediate reactions from the Polish government on Friday evening.

Culture Minister Piotr Glinski, who appointed Szydlo to the council, reacted after the first three resignations by denouncing them.

Glinski said it was an for the museum to have Szydlo on the council and said the resignations threatened to “politicize the discussion around the most important museum of martyrdom in Poland, a place of world heritage.”

Szydlo is now is a member of the European Parliament for the Law and Justice party. She has studied ethnography and history, and is from the area of Oswiecim, the Polish town where the site of the former Auschwitz death camp is located.

Source: Auschwitz inmates’ families oppose ex-PM on museum council

Polish court rebukes Canadian historian for defaming alleged Nazi collaborator

Sigh….

A Polish court order that an eminent Canadian historian and his co-editor apologize for suggesting a man helped kill Jews during the Second World World has angered Jewish human rights activists in Canada and abroad.

They say the ruling against Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking is part of an ongoing effort to obscure Polish complicity in the genocide of Jews during the Holocaust.

Michael Levitt, head of Toronto-based Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, called the ruling shocking and shameful.

“Poland cannot continue to bury the facts and silence Holocaust scholars,” Levitt said. “Its actions must be roundly rejected by Canada and the rest of the international community.”

The group said it was reaching out to senior government leaders urging them to speak out against “Holocaust distortion in Poland.”

At issue was a short passage in a 1,600-page book “Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland,” co-edited by Grabowski, a professor at the University of Ottawa, and Engelking, director of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research in Warsaw.

According to the passage, which Engelking wrote, Edward Malinowski robbed a Jewish woman during the war and contributed to the deaths of 22 other Jews hiding in a forest in Malinowo in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.

Malinowski’s niece, Filomena Leszczynska, 81, argued her uncle was a Polish hero who had saved Jews, and that the scholars had defamed her and her family. She demanded a retraction and 100,000 zlotys – about C$34,000 – in compensation.

Judge Ewa Jonczyk, of the District Court in Warsaw, ordered the authors to make a written apology for “providing inaccurate information” and “violating his honour.” The judge, however, stopped short of imposing monetary compensation, saying it could hinder academic research.

Nevertheless, Mark Weitzman, with the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the ruling opened the door to further intimidation of Holocaust scholars and researchers.

“By ordering the scholars to ‘apologize,’ it puts both historians and victims on trial, and offers protection to the reputations of Poles and others who collaborated in the murder of Jews,” Weitzman said

Grabowski could not be reached for comment, although Engelking said they planned an appeal.

Grabowski, whose work on the Holocaust has attracted death threats, told The Canadian Press in 2017 that he would not allow fierce criticism of his research in Poland to deter him.

“I feel personally attacked but this is for me a much more dangerous and general problem that has to be dealt with,” Grabowski said. “It’s a pure and simple attack on basic academic freedoms, which we take for granted here in Canada. I’m dismayed.”

The Nazis slaughtered about three million Jews and another two million Christians in Poland during the war. While many Poles resisted the invaders, others collaborated with the Nazis.

Leszczynska was backed by the Polish League Against Defamation, a group that fights harmful and untruthful depictions of Poland. The league, which has previously attacked Grabowski’s work, is ideologically aligned with the ruling nationalist Law and Justice Party.

The researchers, however, viewed the case as an attempt to discredit their overall findings and discourage other researchers from investigating the truth about Polish involvement in the German mass murder of Jews.

Source: Polish court rebukes Canadian historian for defaming alleged Nazi collaborator

Future of Holocaust research in Poland hinges on libel case

Of note, ongoing disturbing trend:

Two Polish historians are facing a libel trial for a scholarly examination of Polish during World War II, a case whose outcome is expected to determine the fate of independent Holocaust research under Poland’s nationalist government.

A verdict is expected in Warsaw’s district court on Feb. 9 in the case against Barbara Engelking, a historian with the Polish Center for Holocaust Research in Warsaw, and Jan Grabowski, a professor of history at the University of Ottawa.

It is the first major legal test in the wake of a 2018 law that makes it a crime to falsely accuse the Polish nation of crimes committed by Nazi Germany. The law caused a major diplomatic spat with Israel.

Since it won power in 2015, the conservative ruling party, Law and Justice, has sought to discourage investigations into Polish wrongdoing during the wartime German occupation, preferring instead to almost exclusively stress Polish heroism and suffering. The aim is to promote national pride — but critics say the government has been whitewashing the fact that some Poles also collaborated in the German murder of Jews.

The Israeli Holocaust museum Yad Vashem said the legal effort “constitutes a serious attack on free and open research.”

A number of other historical institutions have condemned the case as the verdict nears, with the Paris-based Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah describing it Tuesday as a “witch hunt” and a “pernicious invasion into the very heart of research.”

The case on a 1,600-page, two-volume historical work in Polish, “Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland,” which was co-edited by Grabowski and Engelking. An abridged English version is due to be published in a few months.

Grabowski and Engelking say they see the case as an attempt to discredit them personally and to discourage other researchers from investigating the truth about the extermination of Jews in Poland.

“This is a case of the Polish state against freedom of research,” Grabowski told The Associated Press on Monday.

Grabowski, a Polish-Canadian whose father was a Polish Holocaust survivor, has faced considerable anti-Semitic harassment by nationalists, both online and at lectures in Canada, France and elsewhere.

The niece of a man in the village of Malinowo, whose wartime is briefly mentioned, is suing Grabowski and Engelking, demanding 100,000 zlotys ($27,000) in damages and an apology in newspapers.

According to evidence presented in the book, Edward Malinowski, an elder in the village, allowed a Jewish woman to survive by helping her pass as a non-Jew. But the survivor is also quoted as saying that he was an accomplice in the deaths of several dozen Jews.

The niece, Filomena Leszczynska, has been backed by a group, the Polish League Against Defamation, which receives funding from the Polish government.

That organization argued that the two scholars are guilty of “defiling the good name” of a Polish hero, whom they claim had no role in harming Jews, and by extension harming the dignity and pride of all Poles. The lawsuit was filed in court free of charge as allowed under the 2018 law.

Mark Weitzman, director of government affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called “Night Without End” a “meticulously researched and sourced book … that details thousands of cases of complicity by Poles in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.”

“The proceedings against these two scholars of international repute are nothing more than an attempt to use the legal system to muzzle and intimidate scholarship on the Holocaust in Poland,” Weitzman said.

Germany occupied Poland in 1939, annexing part of it to Germany and directly governing the rest. Unlike other countries occupied by Germany, there was no collaborationist government in Poland. The pre-war Polish government and military fled into exile, except for an underground resistance army that fought the Nazis inside the country.

Yet some people in Poland collaborated with the Germans in hunting down and killing Jews, in many cases people who had fled ghettos and sought to hide in the countryside.

Grabowski said “Night Without End” is “multi-faceted, and it talks about Polish virtue just as much. It paints a truthful picture.”

“The Holocaust is not here to help the Polish ego and morale, it’s a drama involving the death of 6 million people — which seems to be forgotten by the nationalists,” he said.

A deputy foreign minister, Pawel Jablonski, described the case as a private matter.

“It is everyone’s legal right to seek such a remedy before (a) court if they feel that their rights have been infringed by (another) person or entity,” Jablonski told the AP in an statement Monday. “The government is not involved in the proceedings, it is a private matter to be decided by the court.”

Yet those who fear that the case could stifle independent research take a different view.

“The involvement in this trial of an organization heavily subsidized with public funds can be easily construed as a form of censorship and an attempt to frighten scholars away from publishing the results of their research out of fear of a lawsuit and the ensuing costly litigation,” said Zygmunt Stepinski, director of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

Source: Future of Holocaust research in Poland hinges on libel case