In my article last week, I reviewed European racism in dealing with displaced Arabs and Africans fleeing the Russian-Ukrainian war based on many documented videos on social media.
In response to this article, the Political Officer at the Embassy of Poland in Egypt, Batrosz Andrzejewski, extended an invitation to me to meet Poland’s Ambassador to Cairo Michel Labenda.
I accepted this invitation and went to the embassy’s headquarters in Cairo, where the reception was cordial and the Polish ambassador clarified many facts, stressing that what was published on social media is a systematic campaign to demonise Poland, and that there is certainly an explanation for what happened on the border, shedding light on the efforts made by Poland to help those who are fleeing the Russian-Ukrainian war.
At the beginning of his speech, the Polish ambassador expressed his concern about the false information about the alleged racist treatment of refugees from the Middle East and Africa on the Polish-Ukrainian borders, adding that the situation is difficult and there is a war in Ukraine, and that Poland can understand the feelings of those who suddenly left all their achievements in life, explaining the possibility of the emergence of these rumours as a result of the difficult situation, as this disaster is considered the largest humanitarian crisis in the world after World War II. He noted that according to international humanitarian law, women and children are given priority when crossing borders.
“Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Poland’s priorities have been to receive women and children, as the first day of the invasion witnessed huge waves of people fleeing the scourge of war, which placed a great burden on the soldiers at the border checkpoints,” he said.
“The violence that featured in the videos that appeared on social media was not directed against a particular gender, colour, or race, but rather to create passageways for women and children to pass through in the first place, regardless of their nationality.”
The Polish ambassador also noted that the refugee crisis that took place on the Polish-Belarus border a few months ago — which I referred to in my previous article — was a fabricated crisis on the Belarusian side to put pressure on Polish authorities.
Furthermore, he indicated that Poland was dealing with a ploy aiming to create chaos in the European Union and a new kind of war, in which people were used as human shields.
“What proves that this crisis was fabricated is that it did not last long, as the countries concerned sent planes to repatriate their citizens and the crisis ended immediately and no one was harmed, but what was circulated in the media were scenes of elements hired by Belarus trying to cross to the other side, using cutters, trunks, and collective strength. So, Poland has deployed troops on the border, but we continue to accept refugees from Arab countries until now,” Labenda said.
The Polish ambassador also confirmed that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused a huge humanitarian crisis, stressing that his country announced its readiness to receive all refugees who need assistance while simplifying all procedures to the highest degree. This is where the entry of citizens of all countries, who need a visa in other circumstances, is accepted for a period of up to 15 days, during which they can return to their country or begin to legalise their status in Poland.
He added that the scale of the problem facing his country is unprecedented and requires the work of the government and all local authorities, stressing that the assistance provided by the Polish people is enormous and that the number of refugees fleeing Ukraine who fled to Poland exceeded 1.5m people.
In the end, the Polish ambassador praised the role of Egyptian Minister of Expatriate Affairs Nabila Makram, who held several meetings with him regarding the Egyptians stranded at the borders. He also praised the role of Egypt’s Ambassador to Warsaw, Hatem Tag Al-Din, who exerted a lot of effort to facilitate the procedures for returning the Egyptians.
I greatly appreciate the Polish ambassador’s keenness in Egypt to clarify his country’s position, especially since Poland has close relations with Egypt and the Arab world.
Indeed, many of the waves of anger that prevailed in the Arab world due to some events that were not justified at the time could have been contained through such quick initiatives that take into account the nature of the critical period the whole world is going through.
I thank the Polish ambassador for his distinguished diplomatic effort to contain crises and build bridges of understanding. I also thank all the embassy’s staff for their tireless efforts to communicate with the Egyptian press.
Marwa Al-Shinawy: Assistant Professor at the International American University for Specialised Studies (IAUS)