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Citizenship

After Poland draws a hard line for refugees, young volunteers step up

Children earn a living by transporting goods inside the Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan.
Mohamed Azakir/World Bank

In a lot of societies, citizens expect their governments to handle difficult situations. Whether it’s a storm that ruins homes, a contagious disease on the loose, or an economy in tatters, governments are usually expected to step up and find a solution.

The same goes for the current refugee crisis in Europe.

Many governments see the refugees as a burden and are doing what they can to stop them from settling. This often sets or reflects the tone of a population.

For instance, in Poland, the leading political party has refused to follow the refugee settling quota established by the European Union. 120,000 extra refugees are supposed to be spread evenly throughout the 28-country bloc. Except this isn’t happening.

Countries like Germany are taking in as many refugees as possible, while those like Poland are blocking incoming refugees and spreading fear about the risks posed by those fleeing war such as disease, terrorism and the impossibility of assimilating a different culture (as an American, I can tell you cultures can assimilate and/or live side by side just fine).

In Poland though, 60 percent of the population agrees with the way the government is handling the situation.

But for many young Poles this is unacceptable, especially for a country that knows what it’s like to be a refugee. After all, Poland suffered through invasion in World War II and the reign of the Soviet Union.

So dozens of young Poles are going outside the official response to deal with the crisis in their own ways.

An emerging group has 30 core members and a fleet of 8 cars. They set up a Facebook page called Dobrowolki (meaning volunteers or goodwillers) to attract donations and new members.

They’re gathering coats, hats, gloves, pants, boots and other supplies from local communities who share their human solidarity and are driving hundreds or even thousands of miles to distribute supplies.

As winter approaches, refugees stranded in cramped, dirty camps are desperate for supplies and help.

Some are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. Many are separated from the ones they love. Others are totally alone, their families destroyed by war.

This displacement and suffering has happened throughout history.

The Dobrowolki know this. They know parts of their country still feel the long echoes of war.

So they’re taking leave from work, they’re putting their lives on hold, spending their own money and maybe even putting themselves at risk--to them, these sacrifices are trivial.

"As a Pole, I want to feel that I have done something for these people, to ease their plight," Jacek Kastelaniec told AFP.

The world needs more Dobrowolki. It needs more people who recognize their own power to help, their own power to shape the ever-unfolding course of events.

There are more refugees now than there were during World War II. The number is approximately 60 million.

That means more than 7 billion people are not refugees.

And at least a few billion of them have the power to help.