The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is deeply concerned about questions concerning the future of Ukrainian refugee hosting laws in Poland and the possible expiration of aid provisions, as recently expressed by the Polish government's spokesperson.

The IRC and its partners are closely following the changing legal landscape and monitoring prospective implications for refugees in Poland. Our latest Protection Monitoring Report highlights the most pressing challenges faced by Ukrainians in Poland, while underscoring the critical importance of continued support for Ukrainian refugees.

Alan Moseley, IRC’s Country Director in Poland, explains:

“Our recent protection monitoring report highlights that almost two years into the full-scale war, the situation of many refugees in Poland remains precarious. Many people still rely on housing that is not sustainable, need humanitarian assistance to survive, and struggle finding ways to improve their situation over the long term. 

“The lingering impact of stress and trauma, especially on children and adolescents, is of major concern. Among the Ukrainians surveyed by the IRC, the biggest inclusion challenges revolve around problems with housing, which increase the risk of premature returns. We also identified tensions within the Ukrainian community itself, issues linked to refugee protection status and labour market exploitation as areas of significant concern.

“We are concerned that the withdrawal of humanitarian aid and legal pressures may compel some refugees to return to Ukraine before it is safe to do so. This is happening at a time when scenarios of potential new displacement, linked to the upcoming winter and potential escalation of hostilities in Ukraine, call for increased preparedness.”

The IRC has interviewed more than 270 individuals to analyse risks and trends related to the protection and assistance offered to the Ukrainian refugee population in Poland. The report aims to inform humanitarian programming to ensure it meets the most acute needs of refugees. Please see the highlights below and read the full report.

Housing and Risk of Premature Returning

Housing remains one of the most urgent needs for refugees from Ukraine in Poland. In case of loss of their current free accommodation, 41% of participants reported that they would search for rental options, 19% plan to return to Ukraine, and 26% would search for another free housing option.

While participants rarely mentioned the specific issues with free accommodation arrangements, some said that it is impossible to verify the legitimacy of their hosts’ financial claims. One interviewee said: "Our landlady says that she did not receive the money from the government to cover the cost of our housing - and we cannot check if it’s true. She says that if the money is not transferred, we will have to cover the total accommodation cost of 12,000 PLN (almost 3,000 USD).”

Since elderly refugees rely almost entirely on benefits provided by the Polish government, in case of a reduction in support, this group will be at even greater risk and might consider returning to Ukraine amidst insecurity. 

When asked about their response if they lost housing in Poland, 30% of all participants who currently live alone reported that they would return to Ukraine, in contrast to 16% of respondents who live with others.

Psychosocial Condition of Refugees from Ukraine

32% of participants indicated that they have noticed a negative change in the behaviour of adult household members since their arrival in Poland, while 9% noticed a positive change. Simultaneously, 44% noticed a negative change in children, and 12% observed a positive change in children.

Tensions Within the Ukrainian Community

The positive perception of acceptance in the host community remains high - 88% of participants indicated they feel completely accepted (40%) or mostly accepted (48%) by the local community.

At the same time, 35% of respondents experienced tensions within the Ukrainian community. Participants mentioned different sources of conflict among refugees in Poland, such as conflicts stemming from the language spoken or unequal access to humanitarian aid. The informants state that refugees who arrived at the beginning of the conflict had access to more unconditional humanitarian aid options, while now the assistance has been scaled down and is targeting mostly the most vulnerable groups. At the same time, all informants agree that most tensions are caused by protracted stress and lack of stability (around income, employment, housing), especially in the collective accommodation sites.

Work-Related Issues

While over 90% of participants reported feeling either very safe or safe in Poland, some participants reported protection incidents, mostly focusing on work-related issues, including labour market exploitation - and discrimination. 55% of participants experienced at least one form of labour market discrimination. 14% mentioned that they receive a lower salary than Polish employees, face different working conditions than Polish employees, or conditions different than initially agreed with the employer. Participants also mentioned negative attitudes toward employees from Ukraine, as well as serious legal violations such as not reporting accidents at work or failure to provide medical assistance to an injured employee. 10% of participants mentioned working without a contract.

“One of the employers offered me higher pay if I did not sign the contract. I accepted, and immediately, they started cutting the payment, complaining about the quality of my work, and giving me the most difficult tasks,” admits one of the survey participants staying in Warsaw.

PESEL UKR Status Termination

According to the information provided by the Office of the Ombudsman, there are numerous complaints submitted by refugees from Ukraine regarding the termination of the PESEL UKR status (and all benefits associated with this status). The most common scenarios mentioned by participants:

62% of participants who reported traveling to Ukraine also reported finding out that their PESEL UKR and associated benefits were terminated. Losing PESEL UKR status is associated with the loss of all social benefits, which are often the main source of income for refugees, and the right to receive free medical help. For some refugees, especially the most vulnerable, it can lead to a lack of ability to cover basic needs and decisions to return to Ukraine prematurely.

From May to June 2023, the IRC has been running a protection analysis through the Protection Monitoring (PM) of Persons of Concern (PoC) living in Warsaw and Katowice regions, covering 274 adult individuals. Convenience, non-probabilistic sampling was used. Therefore, these results should not be generalized for the overall population and represent only the situation of the surveyed population described in detail in the Demographics section of the report

All participants are Ukrainian citizens. No third-country nationals (TCNs) were surveyed in this round of Protection Monitoring. A quarter of participants do not live in the location where the interview was conducted. Therefore, the results may not be fully accurate for the location. 

IRC launched an emergency response to the war in Ukraine in February 2022, working directly and with local partners to reach those most in need. In Poland, we are providing cash assistance to the most vulnerable households, improving access to legal assistance, and providing a variety of tailor-made protection services, including safe spaces for women and children.