As the conflict in Ukraine continues to escalate, more than 8 million people have fled to neighboring countries, including Poland, resulting in the fastest displacement crisis seen in Europe since World War II. Most of the refugees are women and children, who are particularly vulnerable in times of crisis.
When the war in Ukraine escalated on February 24, 2022, Polish nonprofits, businesses and government institutions quickly mobilized to support refugees crossing into Poland.
As the violence in Ukraine persists, refugees continue to arrive in Poland traumatized and in need of vital assistance after making dangerous journeys across the country. But those who have spent the past year in Poland also increasingly need integration support and protection.
While the 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees who have registered for temporary protection in Poland were met with an unprecedented welcome, raising inflation and economic shifts have presented new challenges. Recent amendments to Polish law have required Ukrainian refugees to bear an increased percentage of shelter costs.
“We are concerned that due to socioeconomic pressures some refugees may feel compelled to return to Ukraine before it's safe to do so,” explains the IRC’s Poland country director, Alan Moseley. “Poland and other host states need to focus on strengthening protection and integration systems, while we and the international community need to be ready to support them.”
The armed conflict in Ukraine is causing grave harm to millions of families who are trapped by the violence or seeking safety in neighboring states. Ukrainian refugees are still arriving in Poland and need continuous assistance, including trauma counseling and a safe place to stay.
Men of military age are not allowed to leave Ukraine, which means that many women and children forced to flee the country are traveling alone. Women may find themselves living on the margins in a new country without local contacts, language skills or job opportunities that will enable them to provide for their children. This makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
The humanitarian needs will outlast the conflict in Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians have fled to countries in the heart of Europe, including Poland, where existing systems and structures are already equipped to meet their basic needs—it is up to organizations like the IRC to identify gaps and bolster this response so that local organizations can scale up their work for as long as they are needed.
In Poland, the IRC supports:
- Cash and basic needs: The IRC delivers direct cash assistance to people in need to ensure families can buy food, medicine, clothing and other essentials.
- Livelihoods: We have opened two livelihood centers in Poznań and Katowice where refugees can attend language classes, obtain legal assistance, receive assistance in job matching, and access other services to support them in finding stable employment.
- Access to information and legal aid: We are working with partners to support, strengthen and provide initiatives that deliver critical information to people who have fled Ukraine. A grant by Google.org and a Google.org Fellowship team is helping the IRC support United for Ukraine, an information portal and civil society effort that helps displaced people find access to critical services. The initiative is part of the IRC’s Signpost Project, a global humanitarian technology program operating in 15 countries that helps refugees find resources to meet their urgent needs.
- Vulnerable refugees: The IRC is working to provide live video sign language translations, 24 hours a day, to Deaf Ukrainian refugees in Poland. Additionally, we provide emergency legal aid to unaccompanied minors and their guardians and support people with disabilities, the elderly and victims of violence.
- Safe spaces: The IRC provides Safe Healing and Learning spaces to hundreds of children in shelters across Poland. We also work with local organizations to support women affected by the war in Ukraine through a safe haven designed for survivors of gender-based violence. The shelter provides women with a safe living space, employment opportunities, psychological care and support in adapting to life in a new country.
- Education: We support intercultural assistants and teachers who help young Ukrainian refugees continue their education in Poland.
Our work in Ukraine
The IRC is also responding inside Ukraine with our Ukrainian partners, providing protection and safe spaces for women and children, cash, legal assistance, health support and supplying essential items to families living close to the frontlines.
Our work across Europe
Founded in 1933 to assist people suffering under the Nazi regime, the IRC has a long history of providing humanitarian assistance in Europe. That commitment continues in the 21st century: In 2015, we launched an emergency response to the peak in migration in Greece and relaunched operations in Serbia. Since then, the IRC has also been providing support to refugees and migrants in Germany, Italy and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 2021, we also started providing integration support to refugees and the local communities where they have resettled in the UK.
European states like Poland have shown an important commitment to welcoming people in need of protection, and the IRC hopes this will translate into sustained support for refugees everywhere.
At the same time, civilians still in Ukraine must be protected and Ukrainian refugees empowered to make informed decisions about their future. Along with sustained humanitarian aid and integration support, ending violence against civilians is among the most significant steps to allow Ukrainians to rebuild their lives.
“The initial response to this war is a testament to the power of political will and solidarity to serve crisis-affected people,” says Alan Mosely. “A truly joint response to the humanitarian needs triggered by the war in Ukraine requires sustained international solidarity."
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