By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
WARSAW/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– Poland has granted asylum to 16 Christian refugees who accompanied Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski on a flight back from Tunisia.The Foreign Ministry said Friday, June 17, that the six adults and 10 children were “political refugees” from Eritrea and Nigeria, whose lives have been upturned by recent turmoil in North Africa.
Additionally, Eritrean church leaders have suggested that many flee persecution as at least 1,500 Christians are imprisoned because of their faith in Eritrea.
Some rights groups say as many 3,000 Eritrean Christians may be held in detention centers, ranging from police prisons and military jails to even shipping containers.
Since 2002 Eritrea only allows the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church, the Roman-Catholic Church and Islamic groups to operate officially, although church leaders of these traditional denominations have also complained about harassment.
In Nigeria meanwhile Christians have been killed in attacks linked to militants seeking to impose Sharia, or Muslim, law.
Last week, police in northern Nigeria said they detained suspected Islamic militants who allegedly killed a Pentecostal pastor, his assistant, and at least 10 other people in attacks on churches and other targets.
Poland said its decision to grant asylum to at least some people, was a gesture of symbolic support for troubled Christian minorities in the region.”Poland looks after the rights of Christians in the world. This is our gesture of solidarity with persecuted Christians,” Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski told the refugees as they prepared to board the plane to Poland a day earlier.
“Poland was not a colonial country, so there is no tradition of multi-ethnicity. But as a symbolic expression of our solidarity I’ll take today over a dozen refugees who found themselves in camps in your country,” Sikorski also said at a press conference in Tunis, Thursday, June 16, after talks with Prime Minister Bedji Kaid Essebsi.
The move comes shortly before Poland takes over the European Union presidency from Hungary, which has also expressed concerns about persecuted Christians.
Poland and Hungary along with Italy and France urged the EU this year to help prevent more attacks against Christians.In a letter, the foreign ministers of the four EU nations asked the bloc’s Foreign Policy Chief, Catherine Ashton, to take up the issue of anti-Christian violence.
The Christians arriving in Poland fled their homelands and found asylum first in Libya and then Tunisia, Polish officials said.
Poland said it was also granting them asylum to help Tunisia which is struggling to cope with a rising number of refugees fleeing the civil war in neighboring Libya.
Separately on Thursday, June 16, the Polish navy rescued a group of African refugees floating on a dingy in the Mediterranean, Polish media and the navy said.
The group was transported to shore in Spain and given over to local authorities.The rescue operation was coordinated by the ship Admiral Xawery Czernicki, in the area as part of NATO-led anti-terrorist operations in the region, Polish radio said. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos in Budapest and BosNewsLife Africa Service).