Among European nations, Poland has emerged as a leader in welcoming Ukrainian war refugees. With a population of 10 million, Poland has welcomed nearly four million in eight months. As war continues in Ukraine, more people will likely find their way to Poland. This means more opportunities for Poles to interact with displaced Ukrainians. But how will these newcomers integrate into Polish society?
The first wave of migrants has already arrived. In Warsaw, there are around 36,000 students, many of them Ukrainian. They will have to adapt to a school system that is insufficient for the influx. It is expected that the number of students will increase in September.
Many Polish citizens have witnessed the pain and suffering of neighbors in Ukraine and are eager to help. Hundreds of Poles have opened their homes to displaced Ukrainians. Some have even started their own businesses. Despite these efforts, the housing market is saturated. And even the most enthusiastic Poles may not be able to provide long-term shelter.
However, the Polish government and NGOs have been working hard to ease the strain on their resources. The country has distributed several billion zloty in aid to Ukrainians. Meanwhile, the European Investment Bank has prepared a Solidarity Package for Ukraine in cooperation with the European Commission. The package includes a EUR2 billion loan for Ukraine. Moreover, the Aid Fund, operated by the Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego (BGK), is a separate initiative to help Ukrainians.
Aside from helping refugees, the Polish government has also made it a priority to give Ukrainians legal status. As a result, more than a million displaced Ukrainians have now gotten the chance to work or study in Poland. More than a million people have also gotten state IDs, which make them eligible to access government services and other social benefits.
Despite the positive press, Poland is facing a looming challenge: how will they integrate millions of refugees? Not to mention the fact that some populist groups in the country could exploit a growing migrant population to spread misogyny and hatred.
Although many refugees are now enjoying the benefits of a well-managed reception, aid workers are warning that the system will soon run out of steam. For example, even the most enthusiastic Poles are not expected to be able to provide adequate child care and housing for newly arrived migrants. Similarly, the cost of supporting them will be high.
Regardless of the amount of aid and money being given, the situation for displaced Ukrainians is likely to get worse. The economy of Ukraine is predicted to shrink by 45 percent in 2015 and 2016. There is also a lack of gas and electricity. During the winter, these shortages are expected to lead to frequent disruptions. Additionally, there are some reports of a second wave of newcomers. These reports suggest that the Russian invasion and the current violence in Ukraine are causing a fresh surge in migration.
Besides the Aid Fund, the Polish government has put systems in place to ensure Ukrainians have legal access to health care and employment. Most importantly, the government has established a network of over a thousand volunteers who have provided support.