When I lived in England in the 1960s, I met a number of Polish people and their children who, having found a haven in England during World War II, had chosen not to repatriate to their home country after peace had been declared. Some of the parents continued to wear the mantel of a foreigner, but the children, except for being by-lingual, were staunchly English. No one should be surprised by their loyalty to the crown. England was where they were born.
Given Poland’s history, I was surprised to read that like Hungary, Poland’s new government has refused to assist or give asylum to Syrian refugees. In fact, the new Foreign Minister, Witold Waszczykowski, was bold enough to say that “rather than Syrian refuges being allowed to settle in Europe, they should be trained to fight and sent back to ’liberate’ their country.” (“The World at glance,” The Week, November 27, 2015, pg. 8.)
I was alive in 1939 when Europe turned its back on Poland as Hitler rolled his tanks into Warsaw. But, once the war had begun, the right of refugees to escape to safety was never in question and the British government provided a haven for many. In the light of that history, Waszczykowski’s proposal for dealing with the Syrians reflects, at the very least, a severe case of amnesia. And what Syrians does he propose should bear arms? The woman? The children? Here is the demographic on the refugees pouring into Lebanon authored by the International Labour Organization Regional Office for the Arab States.
More than half of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon are below 18 years of age. The predominance of children and adolescents among the Syrian refugee population is likely due to the fact that many men remained in Syria either to protect their businesses and houses or, in some instances, join the fighting forces. The lack of adult males exacerbates the vulnerability of Syrian women and children, who are facing an insecure environment subject to risks of sexual violence, child marriage, child labour, and illicit activities. (Click pg. 13)
Poland’s new Foreign Minister has shown the world a face not only dismissive of history and international law but also ignorant about the makeup of the refugees fleeing from Syria. Worse, his ability to gaze with clinical indifference upon the bloody parade of human sufferers at his door, behaving as if the business had nothing to do with him, stands him apart as something other than human.