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In the two weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, more than 1.4 million Ukrainians have entered Poland – the largest influx of refugees the country has seen since World War Two.
But there is no refugee camp. Instead, like the hustle and bustle of boats crossing the English Channel to rescue stranded soldiers in France in 1940, hundreds of thousands of Poles spontaneously mobilized to help: they developed tea, bread and soup at the border, offers free shipping around the country, collects clothing packages for donations, and provides spare rooms in their homes.
However, with the war showing no sign of ending, there are signs that the bottom-up wave of help and hospitality is drying up.
Warsaw’s train stations and sports arenas are filled with camp beds or people sleeping in tents because there simply aren’t enough rooms available in the country’s biggest cities. Volunteers are engaged in increasingly acrimonious exchanges with government officials who they allege have done too little to help organize the relief effort and are instead leaning on philanthropic efforts. will of the people.
Joanna Niewczas, a volunteer coordinator at one of Warsaw’s sports halls, speak in an appeal on LinkedIn that the facility is running out of food, medicine and hygiene products.
“The joke is over, governor [of the region Warsaw region] She only gives interviews where everything is under control, and we volunteers are on the verge of a physical and mental breakdown,” she said.
The government insists all is well.
“Everything is working as it should, no chaos” speak Konstanty Radziwiłł, governor of the province of Mazovia, which includes the Polish capital, during a press conference. “In my view, there’s not much more one can do under these circumstances, at this rate and for such a large group of people.”
While much of the aid given to Ukrainians in Poland is the result of volunteers, the government says it is playing an important coordinating role.
“This is a success for all Poles, but this success is made up of effective coordination and cooperation between the government, [local] Paweł Szefernaker, Deputy Interior Minister responsible for cooperation between the government and local authorities, told POLITICO.
The government has also received international acclaim, a big change from the past when it has regularly faced criticism for flouting EU democratic rules.
“I have rarely felt more emotional than the moment I saw the Polish people welcome the refugees at the border with tea, bring them into their homes. So amazing. And that makes me a proud European,” said Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission, on Monday.
But opposition parties and some volunteers say the nationalist government led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party is taking political credit for voluntary aid investment – and they are not. Have a plan for what to do when the number of refugees increases and the population is full of help.
Marcin Kierwiński, general secretary of Civic Platform, Poland’s main opposition party, “The never-ending PR post about how the government heroically tackles every problem is nothing more than a slap.” speak at a press conference. “A slap for millions of Poles, who, despite the fact that the government did nothing, shouldered the burden of help for their Ukrainian brethren.”
The stress will almost certainly get worse.
More than 100,000 people a day travel from Ukraine to Poland, and the number fleeing shows no sign of abating as Russia’s campaign hits cities in eastern Ukraine, causing an ever-increasing number of civilian casualties. UNHCR speak Fifth, more than 2 million people have left Ukraine since the Russian invasion – Poland is a preferred destination as it shares a 500-kilometer border with Ukraine, is culturally and linguistically similar and has more than One million Ukrainians are living and working in this country.
The Interior Ministry has mobilized border guards, the army, police and firefighters to ensure security and provide refugees with rapid border crossing and transportation. Local authorities have also set up temporary reception and information centers in all regions of Poland.
“The role of the central government is to ensure border security, to organize work at the border, to provide security through uniform services and to organize freight trains from the border,” said Szefernaker. to other towns in central Poland. “We’re organizing all of this.”
Help those who come
Poland’s parliament on Wednesday approved new measures to help Ukrainians: allowing them to stay in the country legally for 18 months, speeding up the registration process, giving them access to the social security systems. and healthcare, a one-time distribution of 300 złoty (€62) and funds targeted at schools for new students. Families receiving refugees will also receive 40 złoty per day for two months for each person they stay.
But volunteers and local officials say that is not enough to temporarily accommodate and integrate such a large number of people.
Krzysztof Kosiński, mayor of Ciechanów, a small town in central Poland that has organized four deliveries for Ukrainians and is picking up 171 people, said the entire burden of accepting refugees rests with the authorities. local.
“Until today, we have not had a dime from the state budget for aid to refugees,” he said, noting that Polish cities will ask the Commission to The European Commission and other governments want to provide financial aid to Ukraine streamlining money directly to local governments.
Financial problems are also posed by volunteers. Zosia Zochniak, who organized the collection and storage of clothes and other items for 500 refugees in Warsaw, published an Instagram post with an open letter to Polish President Andrzej Duda, asking him what’s next.
“For the past 10 days, I have barely seen my daughters, I have missed all meetings at work, barely slept or eaten, my company’s storage space, my job placement. and financial stability for 50 people, turned into a space for support, and then asylum for people coming from Ukraine,” she said. She said she now wants to return to her normal life, but she does not want to remain indifferent to what is happening.
“We want to join forces with you,” she told Duda. “To help you systematize this whole thing.”
European Commission announced at least 500 million euros in additional EU funding to deal with the humanitarian crisis. The EU also agreed to invoke Temporary Protection Directive, which allows Ukrainians to stay and move around the block for up to three years with the right to live and work immediately, and gives them access to social service benefits such as housing and medical care . They are also allowed to enter the EU without a visa.
It is unclear how many Ukrainians are staying in Poland and how many are moving west, but countries from Germany to Belgium are reporting increasing numbers of refugees.
But even as larger numbers are continuing, Poland’s Dunkirk’s moment for a major volunteer effort is under strain. In the early days of the conflict, refugees often had relatives in Europe or a previously organized place to stay, Szefernaker said. Now many people have nowhere to go.
“They are escaping bombs falling on civilian targets and those people arrive in Poland shocked, in some sort of war trauma. We see more and more people coming to the reception centers,” said Szefernaker.
The time without refugee camps is coming to an end. Reception centers are gradually turning into residence centers where people will be able to stay longer.
“We had a sincere response, but soon we had a big problem,” said Maciej Duszczyk, who studies migration at the University of Warsaw, told newspaper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna. “The responsibility must be removed from those who have chosen to accept refugees. We should say, ‘Thank you for accepting this family, now we are taking care of them.’ The state must regain control of this.”
EDIT: This article has been edited to clarify how long Ukrainians can stay in Poland. It’s 18 months now.
https://www.politico.eu/article/poland-dunkirk-moment-refugee-ukraine-war/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Poland's generous welcome to Ukrainian refugees shows signs of tension - POLITICO