Over 3 million Ukrainian refugees have crossed the Polish borders since the war started. In just three weeks, over 100,000 registered in Warsaw to receive assistance and enjoy special legislation equalising their rights with any other citizen. For example, they have access to social security, the labour market, and health care.
However, over 700,000 refugees decided to stay in Warsaw. Most of them were invited to stay with family or friends, others were offered a home by citizens willing to host those in need. The city has also organised 2,000 places in shelters and reception centres with a plan to increase them to 6,000.
Means to make a living
Because refugees can access the labour market, nearly 17,000 now got jobs. And many families get additional support as they can apply to nurseries and schools. Today, 20,000 refugee children are attending school.
The city offers all possible assistance, from dealing with newcomers in reception centres to finding a home for those in need and providing general support such as giving further information on life in Warsaw, offering free transportation, etc.
Refugees also get support to learn the Polish language and career counselling, and teenagers receive psychological support and assistance to access the Ukrainian education system while in Poland.
Refugees are a potential
To Tomasz Pactwa, Director of the Projects and Social Affairs Department of the City of Warsaw, “refugees are a potential” and not a burden.
Even though along the way there were and are complications, welcoming refugees is the right choice.
“When it comes to the economy, in the beginning, we would probably have some problems with adaptation, integration,” says Pactwa. “But at the end of the day, after one or two years, when the process is finished, when refugees become our citizens, then the city will grow, we’ll have more children, more happy people.”
He adds that even when some Ukrainians will return to their country, there is enormous potential for future relationships between the two countries.
Supporting, adaptation and registration are services that cannot be sustained only with Warsaw’s own budget – they get help from international organisations but need EU funds. Also, refugees rented thousands of flats in the city, but prices are rising, and the city needs solutions. For instance, they are thinking of subsiding houses outside Warsaw.
“We don’t have years, we don’t have months, we need additional support from the European Commission now, special tools, lines of funding for us as a city to access directly,” noted Pactwa.
Despite all challenges, Pactwa sees opportunities and is amazed by his people’s response to the crisis.
“First of all, we were really surprised by the fact that our citizens accepted refugees the way they did. Almost all of them. We did the research, and 75% of our inhabitants are helping refugees somehow: sending money, bringing food, and also being volunteers.
We also asked our citizens, ‘what do they think about that?’ And 70% said it’s very good, as it means there are more hands to work. There are a lot of job vacancies. So, it would be even better to build a common society.
They also praised the culture Ukrainians are bringing, so our city would be better, more colourful, if I may say that, more cosmopolitan. They pointed out the movement of solidarity. In other words, people get together and have the same aim. And, from the bottom of our hearts, we all want to help each other.
So, it’s a great opportunity for all of us to improve. If we’re helping someone who needs help, we also become a better person. At the end of the day, this is the city I would like to have. And I’m really proud of the fact that our citizens are so supportive.”