Poland Opens up Safe Haven for Christian Refugees from Syria as EU Makes Quotas for Asylum Seekers

May 28, 2015 12:41 AM EDT

Syrian refugees granted asylum in poland
Polish charity Fundacja Estera says that the refugees are among the thousands of Christians facing murder in Syria. Of those that the foundation says should be granted asylum in Poland, more than half are children.

The European country of Poland announced on Tuesday that it has decided to accept 60 Syrian Christian refugee families. The country has previously voiced opposition to European Union plans for binding quotas on asylum seekers.

According to a report from Agence France-Presse, Polish non-governmental organization Estera asked Poland's government to allow around 1,500 Syrian Christians to live in the country. Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz made the announcement to reporters in Warsaw.

"We'll welcome 60 families for a start," Kopacz said. "Today Christians who are being persecuted in a barbaric fashion in Syria deserve Christian countries like Poland to act fast to help them."

AFP reported that although Poland opposed binding EU quotas for asylum seekers, the country indicated that it is open to accepting refugees and migrants on a voluntary basis.

According to a report from Radio Poland, Kopacz laid out the plan on how the Syrian Christian refugees will be processed.

"It must be a very precise schedule of activities," Kopacz said. "We will count on the cooperation of local authorities, as well as, we hope, and we expected such cooperation when we took on Ukrainians from the Donbass region."

Radio Poland reported that about 1,500 Syrian Christians would be eligible for asylum in Poland. The prime minister indicated that the decision was unanimous and made during a meeting with Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna and Interior Minister Teresa Piotrowska.

Syrian refugees
Syrian children play under the heat of the midday sun in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, near the Syrian border, on April 17, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Khalil Hamra)

Poland's decision to accept a certain number of Syrian Christians highlights the plight of asylum seekers and migrants trying to enter the EU through whatever means necessary, many of them through Italy and Greece. According to Ian Traynor of the Guardian, an EU proposal from Brussels wanted its members to take in 40,000 asylum seekers; it has faced stiff opposition in some European countries.

"It's clearly a beginning, a first step," William Lacy Swing, head of the International Organization for Migration, said. "There's a lot of interest in a comprehensive policy."

Traynor reported that the latest quota scheme from the EU would only apply to certain groups, particularly those who arrived in Italy and Greece since last month; those who migrated due to economic or "irregular" reasons would not be eligible. In addition, it would only apply to nationalities with a 75 percent success rate in asylum claims; Traynor speculated that provision would mostly apply to Syrians and people from the African country of Eritrea.

"Our migration policies have not kept pace with migration realities," Swing said. "This is not something that gets you elected or re-elected."

Traynor reported that based on EU figures, 220,000 "irregular" migrants reached Italy and Greece last year. Around 40 percent of them were Syrians and Eritreans fleeing war and oppression in their home countries.