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In Poland, the homeless and Chechen refugees form unlikely bond | Europe

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Warsaw, Poland – Kazik, a 61-year-old moustached man, rarely leaves western Warsaw, an area known for simple summer houses, orchards and community gardens.

In recent years, it has become popular with the city’s homeless, Kazik among them.

For the past 10 years, he has been living in a small cottage, which although surrounded by apple and walnut trees is far from idyllic.

His homelessness came after years of personal challenges.

“I got on the ‘wrong train’ and I travelled with it for 40 years,” Kazik explains. “And then I ended up here.” 

He has arterial disease and is unable to move without his crutches. But his garden with small plants in flowerpots and an old nesting box brings him some joy. 

“I made it four years ago for my partner. She liked to watch birds. It used to look different, now it’s falling apart,” Kazik explains.

In winter, Kazik and his partner would fill the birdhouse with sunflower seeds and in spring, the birds would sing at their window. 

Since his partner died three years ago on a hot July day, loneliness has become the permanent melody of his life.

But the little box and Kazik’s woodwork skills were to change his life.

They have no one and neither do we.

Madina, 36-year-old Chechen refugee

Two years ago, he met Marina Hulia, an energetic human rights activist and volunteer from the Polish capital who has long worked with disadvantaged groups: the homeless, prisoners, refugees and the elderly.

Her goal has centred on connecting these groups to create a strong community of marginalised people who support each other, learn from each other and use their skills to empower others. 

“Help should be mutual, both sides should benefit from it,” Hulia told Al Jazeera.

Hulia became known for her support of Chechen refugees, who having fled persecution and violence at home were stranded at the border between Poland and Belarus.

In August 2016, thousands of people started arriving at the border city of Brest to cross into Poland – the first European Union country – to ask for international protection.

Hulia spent months helping those in need. 

She would visit Brest with other volunteers, including her Chechen friends, to provide stranded refugees with food, clothes and other aid.

She also organised educational activities for children. During the peak of the crisis, many families lived at the central train station, each day making attempts to claim asylum in Poland. Hundreds of families were denied entry by Polish border security and many of them needed several months to finally enter what they saw as a better world. 

Madina, 36, and her three children spent four months in Brest before they were allowed to claim asylum in Poland.

“When I first came, I stayed at the train station not to waste money. Then we rented a one-bedroom flat,” Madina told Al Jazeera. “We were five families, and we lived there all together.”

Madina first met Hulia in Brest. After 17 attempts, she finally crossed into Poland and became one of Hulia’s most devoted volunteers.

Almost three years later, Madina and her family are still waiting for their papers. But they have already found a community, friends and a support network.





Kazik’s garden is now one of the places Chechen refugees visit regularly [Marta Rybicka/Al Jazeera]

When Hulia first offered Chechen women to visit Kazik’s garden, they were unimpressed; stereotypes about homeless people being drunk criminals ran deep.

“When I went there for the first time, I thought, ‘What is this, where have they taken me?’ I had a feeling as if I was brought to a kind of rubbish dump,” Madina said. “But then we thought the same could happen to us. We are homeless too, in the end. We had to leave our land and live in a foreign country.”

At the time, Kazik’s garden was full of items he had hoarded and acquired; he was unable to afford waste disposal. 

But his birdhouse stood out among the piles of rubbish.

Hulia encouraged Kazik to make more, paint them with the help of Chechen children and sell them at a local auction. From the money earned, Hulia ordered waste containers to clean up the garden.

“Apart from accepting rice or canned food, they have a lot to give and teach us,” Hulia said of the refugees.

As Kazik flips through photographs taken last summer, his face lights up when he sees pictures of Chechen boys helping him make nest boxes and Chechen woman preparing traditional food.

“I started believing in people,” said Kazik, who does not accept money for his work. “I saw their joy, the smiles on their faces and the painted birdhouses. It was incredible.

I may not have a home, your children may not have a home, but let the birds have one.”

Kazik’s garden was tidied with the help of Chechens and other allotment dwellers. He has also received more orders for birdhouses, which he continues to make with the help of refugee children. When the snow melts, they are planning to make sledges for pugs.

For the Chechens, many of whom still live in refugee centres with little space to spare or opportunities to integrate with Poles – especially amid growing nationalist tendencies – the time spent at the allotments is important too.

“They have no one and neither do we,” Madina said.

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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day

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The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat

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In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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