Poland is one of the EU countries that is suffering major consequences due to the conflict in Ukraine. Since the beginning of the Russian intervention in Ukraine at the end of February this year, a large number of Ukrainians have gone to Poland to find safety there and escape the war. At first, the majority of Polish citizens had great empathy for the Ukrainian refugees, but when the situation began to strain the system in Ukraine, the circumstances changed.

The situation is similar in other European countries, whose citizens feel insecure because of the current energy crisis that burdens the entire economy, and social assistance for refugees from Ukraine creates large expenses that put additional pressure on budgets.

Many refugees from Ukraine (not all, of course) are not ready to seek employment in the countries where they have taken refuge, but intend to live on the social assistance they receive. Additional problems are created by language barriers and lifestyle habits that prevent Ukrainian refugees from integrating into a new environment. This creates dissatisfaction both among Ukrainian refugees and among their hosts.

According to data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the REACH initiative of the Geneva-based IMPACT association: More than 7.4 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded across Europe. Over 1.4 million individuals registered for Temporary Protection in Poland as of 17th of October 2022, the highest number among the EU countries. However, it is necessary to mention that the outflow of the population from Ukraine has been a major trend since the 1990s of the last century, that is, since the independence of this country.

When we talk about Poland, at the end of September of this year, UNCHR and REACH conducted a research in which they interviewed 3,596 people in various locations in Poland, who fled from Ukraine. As many as 64% of the respondents declared that they plan to stay living in Poland.

However, according to the data of the director of the Warsaw "Center for Monitoring Racism and Xenophobia", Konrad Dulkowski, hundreds of verbal and psychological attacks on Ukrainian refugees have been recorded in recent months in Poland, with a tendency for such cases to increase. It is about conflict with neighbors, damage to cars with Ukrainian license plates, as well as writing hate messages in public places. Poland, with a population of 38 million, was not burdened with refugees like some other EU countries decades ago, and now it has actually turned into a center for one of the largest refugee populations in the world.

Among the many emerging problems in Poland, one is the availability of health services. Namely, after the start of the corona virus pandemic, it turned out that the health systems of many EU countries are not able to provide a solid level of health services, or rather, it turned out that the health systems of many countries have failed. Refugees in need of health services further complicate this problem. Citizens, for example, in Poland receive fewer medical services, have to wait long in queues for a doctor's appointment or surgery, social services cannot cope with the demands, and the burden on local budgets is huge (in many cases, aid provides precisely at the expense of local budgets). The citizens of Poland are not one bit happy about it.

On the other hand, Ukrainian refugees are also not satisfied with the availability of medical services in Poland due to the information, language and cultural barrier, because they cannot go to a doctor on their own and come to an agreement with him about medical services, especially regarding services related to mental health. Ukrainian refugees also complained about the lack of care for children. A certain percentage of refugees from Ukraine have problems with chronic diseases, and there was a need to treat serious cases - those suffering from cancer, trauma and severe disabilities. So, the situation in Poland has created increased needs for basic health services, for drugs, for mothers, for children, for HIV, for tuberculosis, as well as for patients suffering from non-communicable diseases, mental health and so on.

All of this requires additional funds for the health budget, which are lacking due to the current crisis, and a special problem is created by the sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia, which are causing great damage.

The US gives some aid, small amounts (usually $50 million), which try to solve the problems they have created for EU countries. By the way, there was no such support for refugees from other countries (Syria, Libya, etc.). In some EU countries that have refugees from Ukraine and refugees from African and Middle Eastern countries, this creates even greater conflicts because refugees from Africa and the Middle East feel discredited as they suffer segregation. In any case, such a low level of support will not be able to have any effect for a long time, since the social sphere and healthcare are already not in good condition.

The slogans that could be seen on the streets of Warsaw on the Polish National Day indicate that such circumstances will further increase dissatisfaction with Ukrainian refugees. "This is Poland, not Ukraine!", "Ukrainian is not my brother", "Stop the Ukrainization of Poland", "This is not our war", were some of the slogans that could be seen and heard in the center of Warsaw on November 11, 2022. on the Polish National Holiday. According to the information of the organizers, there were about 100,000 people at the rally, among whom were prominent politicians "such as the Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro from the right-wing party Solidarna Polska or the former Minister of Defense Antoni Macierewicz from the ruling party Law and Justice. Chanting "Nationalism is our way", the protesters burned the EU flag and the rainbow flag.

According to Polish authors Slavomir Sierakovski and Przemislav Sadur, they claim the following: „We have a problem, and a serious one. In the public sphere, there is a belief that Poles are full of good will towards Ukrainians. We managed to distribute medals for this, we accept thanks from Ukraine, and this is no longer true. This was certainly the case in the first months when we responded sympathetically to the outbreak of war and Russian violence. The fear of Russia, which is a strong factor in integrating Poles and Ukrainians, also played its part, regardless of sentiment. Unfortunately, sympathy is no longer the dominant feeling among Poles“.

Based on the research that Sierakovski and Sadura did, they came to the following conclusions:

„Sociological research shows that negative feelings towards refugees from Ukraine prevail in all social and age groups, in large and small cities, and regardless of gender. Among the reasons for negative feelings, the respondents mention, among others: priority in access to medical services, including refugees in social programs or assigning them PESEL numbers“.

In addition to allocations for the social and health needs of Ukrainian refugees, Poland will also have to allocate funds for their education. So far, funds have already been spent on opening new reception centers, due to increased demand. According to the projections of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Poland will spend 8.4 billion euros on supporting Ukrainian refugees in 2022. The report also mentions that Poland is one of the EU countries "taking the first steps towards phasing out temporary protection" by offering a path that allows Ukrainian refugees to obtain three-year residence permits. Germany’s total bill will come to around €6.8 billion, followed by the Czech Republic with around €1.96 billion. Spain and Romania are also likely to have costs over €1 billion.

German society's support for aid to Ukraine has also reached a critical stage. According to Deutsche Welle: "Welcome culture" runs into resource realities: Already short-staffed and stretched thin, regional officials around Germany say their refugee efforts are getting to be too much.

The biggest burden, as in Poland, fell on local budgets, since the federal authorities reimburse the costs of accommodation, but not the costs of health services and education. One of the German cities not far from Berlin, which received a large number of Ukrainian refugees, is in a critical situation. The management of the city of Cottbus recently announced that it will no longer accept Ukrainian refugees, without a fairer resettlement policy. Namely, they believe that Ukrainian refugees should go to those regions that have larger budgets, especially in Western Germany. This actually created a conflict at the regional level in Germany due to unclear instructions from the federal authorities. This problem exists in general and at the EU level, since Poland and Germany each received over a million Ukrainian refugees, while France, the second largest EU country, received only 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. As in Poland and Germany, the population expresses open intolerance towards Ukrainian refugees. In June of this year, the German Center for Research on Integration and Migration conducted the results of a survey of the public, entitled "Racist reality — how Germany deals with racism." They came to the conclusion that this phenomenon is widespread in German society with a tendency to increase.

At the end of October, in a German village of Gross Stroemkendorf in the east of this country, a fire was set in a hotel where Ukrainian refugees were staying. Investigative authorities are determining the details of this case and claim that it is possible that it was a politically motivated attack.

It remains to be seen whether Ukrainian refugees can be the subject of political instrumentalization by various disaffected groups in the future and whether this can lead to the emergence of larger conflicts within Poland and Germany as well. Мaybe also in some other EU countries. In any case, the trends indicated by some authors do not give too much optimism. Some even go so far as to claim that the developing crisis is a ticking time bomb for Poland itself.

January 8, 2023















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