WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Thousands held opposing rallies Saturday in several Polish cities, with radical right-wingers marching against hosting asylum seekers and others in smaller numbers supporting helping those in need.
Some 10,000 nationalists and right-wingers marched in the rain through downtown Warsaw [pictured above], waving national white-and-red flags and chanting “Today refugees, tomorrow terrorists!” and “Poland, free of Islam!”
Some lighted flares that spread smoke over the marchers, but there was no violence. Police in riot gear warily watched over the protest.
“The refugees are threat to our culture, they will not assimilate with our society,” said marcher Miroslaw Kadziela, 24.
A few hundred others held a “Refugees, Welcome” rally with music at a different location in Warsaw.
Similar pro-con rallies were held in Gdansk, Krakow, Poznan and Szczecin.
Pope Francis has urged his followers to open their hearts and parishes to refugees, but predominantly Catholic Poles are struggling to heed that call amid widespread fears that Muslim arrivals will threaten their jobs and security.
The European Union wants Poland to accept 12,000 migrants. Warsaw has agreed to receive 2,000 within two years and says it has capacity for more provided they are refugees, not economic migrants.
Days before the rallies, even Catholic Poles were voicing reservations.
“On the question of taking in immigrants, Pope Francis is wrong,” Jaroslaw Gowin, a prominent Catholic politician, said Friday. “In no case should we take in Muslims.”
Even the spokesman for Caritas, the Catholic charity, voiced resistance to taking in refugees. Pawel Keska told The Associated Press that “it is impossible to follow Francis’ gesture in Poland now, because we have no Syrian refugees.”
Not all Poles are against helping refugees.
Lech Walesa, the leader of the Solidarity freedom movement in the 1980s, said he would be willing to host refugees under his own roof and would even cook for them — if his wife agrees.
A county near the Baltic Sea coast, Gniewino, became the first place in Poland in recent days to declare it can host and offer jobs to three Syrian families, while parishioners in the western city of Poznan have collected over 24,000 zlotys ($6,300) to help house refugees.