Social Issues

Poland’s Muslim Tatars torn between supporting army, aiding migrants

By Miguel Angel Gayo Macías

Bohoniki, Poland, Nov 21 (EFE).- Despite supporting the calls for building a wall to contain the influx of migrants illegally crossing into Poland from Belarus, the Tatar community in village of Bohoniki spares no effort when it comes to delivering humanitarian aid to those stuck at the border.

Located just 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) away from the Belarusian border, the Polish region is considered the historical and cultural center of the Tatar community that is made up of some 5,000 people, most of whom are Muslims.

Maciej Szczesnowicz, the local leader of the Tatars living in Bohoniki, tells Efe he has placed a large banner in support of the Polish security forces deployed along the border with Belarus reading “We appreciate your services and that you keep our border safe.”

“I have two children and one of them is in the army, and right now he is there with his companions,” he says, pointing to the nearby forest on the border, which for months has seen hundreds of Syrian and Iraqis trying to enter the European Union illegally.

“We have never had integration problems, we are part of this community and part of Poland,” he stresses. “We are Poles and patriots.”

“More than a month ago, the first migrants from the border arrived here; they were two men, they wore good warm clothes. They were arrested,” Szczesnowicz recalls.

The community clearly supports the soldiers defending the nearby border, but it also helps migrants that other people bring to the area.

Bohoniki’s mosque, which was recently restored, has a significant historic value for Poland’s Tatar community that settled in this area nearly 600 years ago after receiving land from Polish King John III Sobieski in exchange for defending it against invasions.

In its kitchen, members of the community cook more than 300 meals a day and take them to the border.

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