Warsaw, Poland, 27 January 2023 — In response to changes introduced to the refugee hosting laws in Poland, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and its partners call for continued support for people forced to flee Ukraine. The ongoing war leaves no doubt Ukraine is not a safe place to go back to - all refugees require dedicated support to meet their basic needs until it is safe to return, and to make informed decisions about their future.
The amendment to the Special Act on assistance to citizens of Ukraine in connection with the armed conflict on the territory of this state which will come into force on 1 April 2023, requires refugees from Ukraine who have stayed in Poland for over 120 days to cover 50% of their accommodation cost in collective shelters. As of 1 June, the payment will increase up to 75% for refugees remaining in the country for over 180 days.
The IRC and its partners are closely following the changing legal landscape and monitoring prospective implications of the legislation for conflict-affected people. We are working with Polish organisations to ensure that families in need have safe, ongoing access to humanitarian assistance, including reliable information and legal aid.
Over the past year, the EU and its member states have shown striking support and solidarity with refugees forced to flee Ukraine. However, as the war continues and supporter fatigue begins to set in, the IRC is calling for EU states to step up to the challenge and continue to provide for people’s urgent and longer-term needs.
Alan Moseley, IRC’s Poland Country Director, said:
“As the war in Ukraine has no end in sight and is likely to continue well into 2023, humanitarian needs of people affected by the war - both inside Ukraine and in neighbouring countries - remain dire. The IRC is carefully monitoring the landscape in Poland and we stand ready to respond to the potential protection challenges resulting from the recent legislative changes.
"The IRC and our partners are concerned that the new law may hinder access to accommodation and long-term resident status for Ukrainian refugees in Poland. In the midst of a winter season, as millions struggle to survive inside Ukraine and continue to seek safety beyond its borders, we need to ensure that all people in need are protected, and that unhindered access to humanitarian assistance is guaranteed. According to forecasts, Poland will experience an inflation peak reaching 18.8% during the first quarter of 2023, with soaring housing and food prices posing additional challenges for both refugees and the host community. We are concerned that these financial pressures may cause some refugees to return to Ukraine to conditions that are unsafe, where attacks on infrastructure have caused escalating harm to civilians in recent months.
“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. Refugees also need access to solid, updated information about their legal status and support to stay abreast of the upcoming changes and requirements, to respond to them ahead of time.
“The initial response to this war is a testament to the power of political will and solidarity to serve crisis-affected people. Poland and other European neighbouring countries have offered Ukrainian refugees an unprecedented welcome, and this humane and effective response needs to continue. The same treatment should be extended to all people forced to leave their homes to seek safety abroad - no matter the passport they hold, or the journey they have undertaken.”
The Act of March 12, 2022 on assistance to Ukrainian citizens in connection with the conflict on the territory of that state (Journal of Laws, item 583, as amended) was passed for the purpose of creating specific legal regulations providing a basis for legal residence of Ukrainian citizens fleeing the hostilities in their country. Apart from legal residence, the act provided for the right to work, to social benefits, and schooling for children, among all. In October 2022, the Polish government proposed the Draft act amending the act on assistance to citizens of Ukraine in connection with the armed conflict on the territory of this state and certain other acts (Projekt ustawy o zmianie ustawy o pomocy obywatelom Ukrainy w związku z konfliktem zbrojnym na terytorium tego państwa oraz niektórych innych ustaw).
The IRC Poland is particularly concerned by the following amendments:
1. Refugees from Ukraine are to cover the costs of their accommodation.
As of 1 March, after 120 days from their arrival in Poland, refugees will be requested to cover 50% (not more than 40 PLN per day) of their accommodation costs, and after 180 days this will rise to 75% (not more than 60 PLN per day) as of 1 May. The government justified the amendment by stating that “these solutions are aimed at sanctioning the practice of paying extra money by Ukrainian citizens for accommodation and food services, activation of Ukrainian citizens residing in collective accommodation centres. At the same time, an exemption from these [expenses] was proposed for persons who due to disability, age, pregnancy or the need to care for minor children are unable to work and thus at least partially participate in the costs of accommodation or meals. People in a difficult life situation also - for humanitarian reasons, will not have to contribute to the accommodation costs and meals.” However, not all refugees have become financially independent enough to cover their stay in Poland and need support to enter the labour market to become financially independent. The question remains how a “difficult life situation” will be assessed. A clear and non-arbitrary way of processing motions for waivers would be recommended in this situation.
2. Those who fled the military conflict in Ukraine have the right to stay legally in Poland until August 24, 2023 but they may face serious obstacles in prolonging the stay.
Prior to this new amendment, all Ukrainian citizens who arrived in Poland as of 24 February 2022 had a more straightforward path to apply for temporary residence, which was not conditional on the fulfilment of additional criteria - as was the case in regular proceedings. According to the new law, however, this option will be withdrawn. Temporary residence permits will be issued to Ukrainian citizens under the same conditions as for other non-Polish nationals. Refugees will need access to legal support and information in order to plan ahead beyond the current temporary protected status, both through the extension of the Temporary Protection Directive and clear pathways into other legal statuses.
3. The new law provides for the repeal of the so-called “COVID regulations”.
So-called “COVID regulations” extended a number of provisions including the legal stay of foreigners in Poland, the validity of residence documents (e.g. visas, residence cards) and temporary foreigner identity certificates, and the application deadline for a temporary residence permit. These regulations will be repealed as of 24 August 2023. After this date, foreigners must take steps to extend their legality of your stay in Poland. That applies to all foreigners, not only Ukrainian citizens.
4. Allocation of 2 billion PLN from the Aid Fund in 2023 for education for Ukrainians in Poland.
We welcome this effort as another expression of strong solidarity with refugees from Ukraine and hope that this and other schemes to provide them with comprehensive integration support and protection will continue and be expanded.
The IRC in Poland
The IRC continues to support refugees from Ukraine in Poland in partnership with local organisations: Instytut na Rzecz Państwa Prawa, Fundacja Rozwoju Oprócz Granic and Centrum Pomocy Prawnej im. Haliny Nieć . We are jointly providing responsive information services, legal assistance, emergency legal aid to Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children and their guardians, as well as support for people with disabilities, elderly, victims of violence.
The 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.
Responding along the entire arc of the crisis, we are responding in Ukraine and Moldova, and running activities targeting Ukrainian refugees in Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Czechia and Bulgaria, as well as in Germany, Italy, Greece and the UK.