Weekly column: Jesus spoke for the poor; let we help the refugees in Poland
Seven hours by car from Germany’s border to the East, terrible scenes have been playing out for weeks. The Belarusian dictator Lukashenko is using refugees from the Arab region to blackmail the European Union. And for a few days now, the situation has been coming to a dramatic head: soldiers and war equipment are being deployed, and the refugees are suffering from the cold.
People, worse: people in need and practically without rights, are pawns of politics. The Eastern rulers are abusing them for a political game. But we in the West cannot simply withdraw and say: this is a rotten game.
Dictator in Minsk
Of course, what the dictator in Minsk is doing is unacceptable. It would be different if he brought the refugees into his country and offered them asylum there! Yes, that would be extraordinarily humanitarian.
Wolfgang Stock was born in 1959 in Hanover, West Germany, as the child of refugees from the Eastern GDR. He studied history and international politics in Würzburg and Oxford, where he also received his doctorate. He is a board member of the German Evangelical Alliance. He worked as a journalist for many years, wrote several political books, including the first biography of Angela Merkel in 2000. He lives in Karlsruhe with his wife. They have five grown-up children and three grandchildren.
But he is far from that: he only brings them into the country to send them west to the border with the European Union in wintry temperatures because he knows that this flow of refugees would lead to a major conflict in the divided EU.
Poland brings us in moral dilemma
But Lukashenko’s deeply immoral behaviour or not - the political reaction of the Polish government plunges us Europeans into a moral dilemma.
As a Christian, I cannot be indifferent to the closing of the border with which Poland is currently reacting to the crisis. In the Evangelical Alliance in Germany, at any rate, we have made it clear to our politicians: the fate of the people there at the border demands immediate action, immediate help! Humanitarian aid for suffering people is more important than political principles!
But what political principles is Poland actually “defending”? The situation into which the Belarusian dictator, with the support of the dictator in Russia, has brought us is even more complicated, because it is not only about Christian or humanitarian principles: In my view, the Republic of Poland is breaking European law by forcibly beating refugees who have crossed the border into Poland back into Belarus from Polish territory.
Because the law of the European Union clearly states: whoever enters the EU and asks for asylum must be accepted. But what is the EU doing? Already at the EU’s southern border, the Mediterranean, we try to turn away refugees and prevent them from coming within the EU borders and making their claim. We accept that refugees drown.
And now, also in our name, everything is being done at Poland’s and thus the EU’s border with Belarus with barbed wire, tear gas and brutal violence to prevent people from claiming an essential human right – even though this right is one of Europe’s fundamental moral values.
I understand the politicians
Of course, I recognise the challenges for politics - it is a complex constellation. When nearly one million refugees poured into Germany in the last wave of refugees in 2015/2016, the willingness to help among Christians was enormous - but other people in Germany saw the refugees as a danger, leading to a substantial rise of the radical right-wing protest party AfD.
It is true: especially in these problematic Corona times, no one is eager to take in hundreds or thousands of refugees from the Middle East - sending a signal to many, many others waiting at the EU borders for a gate to open.
But if we as Christians take the Bible seriously, there cannot be the slightest doubt that we are obliged to care for and welcome refugees. As Christians, we know with gratitude that God created every human being in His image - without exception (the likeness of man). And God reminds the people of Israel in the 3rd Book of Moses (Leviticus) that they themselves were once refugees (“If there is a stranger with you in your land, you shall not oppress him. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as a native, and you shall love him as yourself, for you yourselves were strangers in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (19,33)).
And Jesus always spoke up for the widows, orphans and others in need of help. He even went one big step further by combining the commandment to love one’s neighbour with the love of God to form the double commandment of love - one cannot be thought of without the other: In Jesus’ judgment speech in Matthew 25, He repeatedly emphasises “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.” Love of God has its consequence in the love of neighbour! And the refugees on the Polish-Belorussian border are our neighbours.
If we do nothing, we are complicit
If we stand idly by and watch what is currently being done on the eastern border of the European Union, then as Christians and as citizens of the European Union, we are complicit - we tolerate the violation of elementary moral foundations.
Especially, just before the beginning of the Advent season, this depresses me very much.
Weekly column: Christian life in Poland: In this Catholic city you can see traces of Jewish milk and honey
It was the first time this friend of mine visited me in Krakow. I told him, I would take him to Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter. It was on a Saturday. My friend asked me why bother going there if everything would be closed on the Jewish holy day. I was confused for a minute and then suddenly connected the dots saying: No, my friend! It is indeed called a “Jewish quarter” but not because Jews live there today. It is called so because of the history of that part of the city!
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