Smugglers or saviours? Poland’s divided stance on aiding refugees

Why are volunteers on the Ukrainian border treated as heroes while those helping families cross from Belarus face criminal charges?

Weronika Klemba had just dropped off a group of fellow volunteers at the forest near the border between Poland and Belarus when she was pulled over by police. The 21-year-old student did not want to reveal she was there to offer help to some of the hundreds of people who have been living in the woods, because “I didn’t want them to get the information of where the refugees are,” she says. “I knew they were in a bad condition, and I didn’t want them to get pushed back to Belarus.”

Klemba, a volunteer with the Club of Catholic Intelligentsia at its aid point near the border, says she was then arrested and told she was a “suspicious person”. The first thing her parents knew of her arrest was when police entered their flat in Warsaw the next morning to search for Klemba’s computer. Klemba was held at the police station for 48 hours before she was released and charged with organising an illegal border crossing.

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