In Poland, non-Ukrainian refugees face an uncertain future

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Nearly 2.7 million refugees from Ukraine have reached Poland, including more than 99,000 foreigners who were working or studying in Ukraine. In Warsaw, an association has opened a hotel to welcome and help them. Report.

From our correspondent in Warsaw,

In this two-storey building on the outskirts of Warsaw, about fifteen flags have been hung on the wall and words of thanks are written in several languages ​​on a large sheet of paper.

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, India, Sudan, Morocco, Congo, Mali, “ since the beginning of the war, we have welcomed refugees of more than 34 nationalities says Marianna Ossolińska, member of the KIK association (the Club of the Catholic intelligentsia) and coordinator of the hotel, which can accommodate around 70 people per night. ” Originally, we had planned to host each person for three days, but we have observed that many of them are not ready in such a short time to decide what they want to do and therefore stay Longer “remarks the coordinator.

The words of thanks in several languages ​​of the refugees accommodated in the hotel © Catholic Intelligentsia Club / Katarzyna Jackowska

Sitting in the dining hall, Lillian Pochi, a 31-year-old Nigerian medical student in her fifth year at Uzhhorod University in western Ukraine, lunches in silence. The young woman, who fled Ukraine with only a bag full of medical books, found refuge in this hotel where the calm allows her to continue to follow her courses from a distance.

I have completed the formalities to apply for a student permit » Poland, ” I’m waiting for the answer »,confides this student who does not wish to return to Nigeria where she considers the insecurity too great. ” But if I get this permit, I will have to think about how I will be able to continue my studies in Poland, because the tuition fees are three times higher than in Ukraine “, she worries, hoping to find a job this summer in order to be able to finance her studies. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Education, just over 76,500 foreigners were studying in Ukraine in 2020.

► Also to listen: Ukraine: support for refugees

Unequal treatment between refugees

If the law of assistance to the citizens of Ukraine, adopted in Poland on March 12, legalizes the stay of Ukrainian refugees and binational couples for a period of 18 months in the country and allows access to the labor market and social assistance, it does not apply to third-country nationals who have fled Ukraine. ” It is therefore very important to have a hotel to accommodate non-Ukrainian refugees, because they often find themselves in a more difficult situation than the others, in particular because the law only authorizes them to stay 15 days in Poland. “, points out Marianna Ossolińska. Especially since some refugees do not wish to return to their countries of origin, having lived for many years in Ukraine.

There is a significant inequality of treatment”adds Agnieskza Matejczuk, lawyer of the association Judicial Intervention Association. This NGO regularly visits the hotel to inform non-Ukrainian refugees of their rights. Those who had a permanent residence permit in Ukraine can apply for temporary protection from the European Union. But for those who were residing there temporarily, and this is the case for foreign students, staying in Poland is much more complicated.

They have to go through the standard procedures and there are many criteria required to be able to obtain a temporary residence permit, including the need to have sufficient financial means. “says Agnieszka Matejczuk. ” However, in many situations, this is impossible, because these refugees who fled the war have nothing! exclaims the lawyer, who pleads for the reduction of certain criteria and the extension of the authorized duration of stay. Fifteen days are, in his view, insufficient time to assess study or employment opportunities in Poland.

Refuge and accompaniment

To those people arriving often extremely tired, very sad and traumatized », the association and the 80 volunteers working in this hotel offer free accommodation, meals, clothing and hygienic products. ” Non-Ukrainian refugees are not so often hosted by private individuals and it is more difficult for them to find accommodation than for Ukrainian refugees “, observes Marianna Ossolińska, the coordinator of the establishment. ” It may be easier to accommodate women and children than a group of men “, she says.

The volunteer tells the story of three students from Tajikistan in Ukraine who had to be hosted by Poles, before the latter changed their minds: Polish law offers – meager – compensation for the accommodation of refugees, but only for those of Ukrainian nationality. ” The non-Ukrainian refugees at our hotel realize very well that they are treated differently, and it’s true, that’s the case », stresses Marianna Ossolińska, giving the example of certain buses leaving Poland for Western European countries, reserved for refugees of Ukrainian nationality.

We try to accompany them as well as possible, by informing them of the possibility of contacting their embassies or when means of transport are possible to other European countries. », explains Marianna Ossolińska. The ephemeral accommodation center must close its doors at the end of May, the owner having to recover the premises for the summer season. ” We decided to open a new one, because non-Ukrainian refugees are not going to disappear, the needs are great », announces the coordinator who indicates that she is looking for a larger space, in order to be able to accommodate between 120 and 150 refugees.

► To read also: War in Ukraine: young Africans recount their exodus and call on their governments for help

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