Here’s what Ukraine’s neighbours are doing to help refugees

Refugees entering Poland from Ukraine at the Medyka border crossing point. © UNHCR/Chris Melzer

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: John Letzing, Digital Editor, Strategic Intelligence, World Economic Forum

  • The war in Ukraine is triggering Europe’s worst refugee crisis in decades.
  • Most of the displaced are arriving in neighbouring countries.
  • Abundant efforts both official and informal have been made to assist them.

In just one week, one million refugees have fled Ukraine. Many more will follow as part of what’s expected to become Europe’s worst refugee crisis of the century so far.

But heartening efforts are being made in neighbouring areas to help.

The bulk of evacuees from Ukraine’s deadly war zones have arrived in Poland; others headed west or south have mostly entered Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia, and Romania. They’re almost entirely women and children, and their arduous journeys have often been made on foot. Regardless of the occasional alarmist headline, they’re being welcomed.

Poland is providing accommodation, and guaranteeing free train travel. Both there and in Romania, locals have been appearing unprompted at reception centers to offer refugees food and water.

In Slovakia, residents have also been showing up at the border to hand out essentials.

Many of the displaced arriving in Slovakia are expected to move further west to the Czech Republic, where Prague’s public transportation network has been declared free of charge for those with a Ukrainian passport or ID. The Czech Republic is also offering a special visa enabling people arriving from Ukraine to immediately gain legal employment.

Refugees from Ukraine in neighbouring countries Image: UNHCR

For the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, Ukraine’s plight likely resonates. Soviet tanks entered Budapest in 1956 to crush a democratic uprising, before rolling into what was then Czechoslovakia in 1968 and lingering for decades. As many as 100,000 Czechs and Slovaks left in the months after the invasion.

These countries are now embracing arrivals from Ukraine despite a hardening of anti-migrant sentiment and rhetoric in the region in recent years towards newcomers from the Middle East.

Cooking chicken stew for Ukraine’s refugees

The Red Cross says it’s working with regional partners to help people who’ve fled to Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Moldova, Croatia, Lithuania, and Russia, by providing essentials, SIM cards for mobile phones, and mental-health support.

José Andrés, a well-known Spanish American chef, has been in Poland serving chicken stew and apple pie to refugees escaping the conflict. “Polish people are already feeding people as they cross the border,” he noted soon after his arrival. His non-profit organization has also worked with locals to distribute meals in Moldova and Romania.

A Soviet tank in Bratislava, now the capital of Slovakia, in 1968.
A Soviet tank in Bratislava, now the capital of Slovakia, in 1968. Image: Архипова Людмила Григорьевна/Wikimedia Commons

A wide variety of people have been forced to flee. The African Union said it’s disturbed by reports that African citizens in Ukraine have been denied safe passage, which would be both contrary to international law and “shockingly racist.” Ukrainian cities now under siege are home to tens of thousands of African students.

Ukraine itself has also been a destination for the displaced. As of mid-2020 it was hosting more than 2,000 recognized refugees and a roughly equal number of asylum seekers, from about 60 different countries.

In addition, there are the many expatriates who have been living and working in Ukraine. Maurice Creek, an American basketball player, documented his experience being initially stranded and eventually reaching safety.

Entry points for evacuees have become crowded. But at one location in Dorohusk, Poland, a group of locals has been showing up to give refugees free rides. People in Lublin, 100 kilometers to the west, have been offering up the use of their spare bedrooms.

Donations to help people displaced by the conflict can be made via UNHCR, the ICRC or via the UN Business Guide.

More reading on Ukraine’s humanitarian situation

For more context, here are links to further reading and viewing from the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform:

  • “It’s time for the rest of Europe to show solidarity with Ukrainians.” According to this piece, if responsibilities for those fleeing conflict are shared more equitably the challenge won’t be insurmountable. (Social Europe)
  • Hear directly from a woman who fled Kiev with her children and has reached Poland, while her husband stays behind to defend the city. (UNHCR)
  • The longer the war in Ukraine continues, the more people will be forced out of their homes and into a system that fails to protect the 82 million displaced people in the world, according to this opinion piece. (The New Humanitarian)
  • There is no visa for foreigners to travel to the UK and make an asylum claim, according to this analysis, though some are calling for a Ukrainian refugee resettlement scheme like what was enacted for Afghan citizens last year. (The Conversation)
  • Several years ago a spike in refugees arriving in Germany from the Middle East put wind in the sails of right-wing populists, according to this piece; now, the country’s foreign minister has pledged to accept “all those who choose to flee” Ukraine. (Der Spiegel)
  • The implications of the Ukraine conflict for Moldova are not limited to an influx of refugees, according to this analysis, which points to a Russian-backed breakaway region within the country. (LSE)
  • More than 5,000 Ukrainians have inquired about moving to Israel following the outbreak of conflict, according to this report, and an agency that processes Israeli immigration for Jews in the diaspora has six processing stations at Ukraine’s borders. (Al Monitor)

On the Strategic Intelligence platform, you can find feeds of expert analysis related to Migration, Humanitarian Action and hundreds of additional topics. You’ll need to register to view.

Image: World Economic Forum

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