Poland seeks humanitarian help to look after Ukrainian refugees

About 1.7 million have arrived in the country after fleeing the war with Russia

People who left Ukraine at a nearby border crossing board a train in Przemysl, Poland. Getty
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Poland is lobbying its western allies for humanitarian assistance to take care of the 1.7 million Ukrainians who have entered the country since the Russian invasion on February 24.

Border guards are admitting tens of thousands of people a day under an open-door policy in which anyone fleeing the war in Ukraine can take shelter in Poland and local households are paid for looking after them.

About 300,000 have arrived in the capital Warsaw, where Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski said civil society “cannot improvise any more” despite what he called the overwhelming solidarity shown by Polish people.

Polish officials have used meetings with western colleagues to lobby for more humanitarian support for a refugee intake which is only expected to grow as the fighting continues in Ukraine.

Economic Development Minister Piotr Nowak told his American counterpart Gina Raimondo that humanitarian assistance for refugees in Poland was one of the “most pressing needs” in the current crisis.

Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek, an under-secretary in Poland’s Foreign Ministry, likewise used a meeting with a visiting delegation of German MPs to underline Poland’s call for help.

The “expectations of the Polish authorities” that he outlined to Germany also included sending more defensive weapons to Ukraine and tightening sanctions against Russia, the ministry said.

The European Union this month announced that millions of items including blankets, medical supplies and sleeping bags would be donated to help those in need, with some assistance going to neighbouring countries such as Poland.

Poland has taken in more than half of all the refugees fleeing Ukraine, according to the UN’s refugee agency, which puts the total number at slightly more than 2.8 million.

The mayor of Podkowa Lesna, a town near Warsaw, said officials were trying to reach agreements with local governments in France, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands but that a more coherent relocation system was needed.

In some areas there are 12 refugees for every 100 inhabitants and “the local government and residents are not ready to accept and maintain such a number of people in the long term,” said the mayor, Artur Tusinski.

Speaking to BBC Newsnight, Mr Trzaskowski in Warsaw said local governments and civil society were feeling the strain of the refugee flow.

“The solidarity of the Polish people is absolutely overwhelming,” he said, but “much of that is improvised and we cannot improvise any more.”

The World Bank separately said it was ready to support Poland with money and advice, with the organisation’s president David Malpass praising Polish MPs for rapidly moving to set up help for Ukrainians.

It is the second crisis at Poland’s borders in less than six months after thousands of migrants tried to enter further north on a route allegedly set up by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in a bid to undermine the EU.

Updated: March 15, 2022, 10:18 AM