Poland's Refugee Crisis in Waiting
In a major departure from its behavior as recently as last fall, Poland's semi-authoritarian government has been taking in all refugees from Ukraine and providing them with work permits, health care, education, and other services. But the question is whether this can be sustained, and at what price.
WARSAW – When US President Joe Biden comes to Poland on March 25, he may decide to visit the main hall of the Warsaw Central Railway Station, which is just across the street from the Marriott where American leaders usually stay. Although the hall is full of mothers with children – refugees from Ukraine, part of the largest migration crisis in postwar European history – it is surprisingly quiet. Exhausted, traumatized, and frightened, few cry.
Within three weeks of Russia’s invasion, more than three million people – half of them children – have fled Ukraine, with some two million arriving in Poland. Almost overnight, Poland has gone from being one of Europe’s most homogeneous societies to hosting the world’s fourth-largest refugee population (after Turkey, Colombia, and the United States, respectively).
The war in Ukraine has forced Poland to abandon its anti-refugee stance of recent years. In 2015, when Germany took in more than one million refugees from the Middle East, Poland refused the European Union’s request for it to accept a mere 7,000. Last fall, when Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko tried to funnel migrants from the Middle East over Poland’s border, the Polish government declared a state of emergency and bunkered down. A dozen people – including children – died of starvation and cold. According to opinion polls, the public sided with the government.