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Shopping centre fire inflicts tragedy on Poland’s Vietnamese community



“It all burned, I don’t have money in my pocket,” Nguyen, who moved to Poland from Vietnam 18 years ago, said on Wednesday outside the burnt structure. He estimated his loss at 2 million Polish zlotys (US$500,000).

The fire broke out Sunday morning. Photo: AP

“I don’t have work now,” he added. “I don’t know how my life will go on.”

An association of Vietnamese entrepreneurs described the blaze as a “terrible tragedy” for the Vietnamese community in Poland. The community represents the largest non-European immigrant population in Poland. The Vietnam embassy in Warsaw said that it estimates the population at between 20,000 and 30,000.

People gathered at the wreck of the shopping complex on Wednesday described losing passports and other important documents in the flames in addition to huge sums of cash.

They said they felt it was safer to keep them in their place of work, where they spent the majority of their time, and not their private homes due to a fear of break-ins. One woman said she and others faced obstacles opening bank accounts.

Many of those affected did not want to be interviewed, or were not able to express themselves in Polish or English.

There were no reports of injuries in the fire, which began around 3.30am on Sunday. Prosecutors opened an investigation on Monday.

Members of Poland’s Vietnamese community collect food donations after the fire. Photo: AP

Some, including Poland’s political leaders, have raised questions about the causes of the fire, worried they could even be sabotage at a time of war across the border in Ukraine.

The fire was one in a string of blazes in Poland in recent days that also included fires in a residential building and at a landfill in Warsaw and at a chemical waste landfill in the far south of the country.

Poland’s Interior Minister Tomas Siemoniak told parliament on Wednesday that authorities were investigating whether the fires were connected in any way, but also stressed that the number of big blazes this year is no greater than during the same period last year.

Siemoniak told lawmakers that since the beginning of the year there has been an intensification of activities against Poland by the Russian and Belarusian services that includes sabotage, but that for now there is no evidence linking the events of recent days with the actions of foreign services.

Last fall a fire broke out in another vast centre of Vietnamese trade in Wolka Kosowska, a town near Warsaw.

On Wednesday, Vietnamese merchants approached security guards seeking information about when they might be able to access the site to see if there is anything to salvage. They didn’t get answers, and were told the site remained potentially dangerous. All hoped that officials could help cover some of their losses.

Some received food donations, including big bags of rice, and hygiene products provided by charitable foundations.

One vendor who turned up at the scene of the fire on Wednesday was 28-year-old Lena Ninh, who has lived in Poland for 15 years.

Her parents called her early Sunday soon after the blaze started. She was shocked at how fast it spread.

“In a matter of a few hours we lost everything – our wealth, our life’s work. Now thousands of people are out of work,” she said. “We have no plan yet, we have no direction for how to live now to support the family.”

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