Poland braced for new refugee crisis
Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski has said Warsaw is making plans for multiple contingencies, including a mass influx of war refugees, amid Western fears that Russia will invade neighboring Ukraine.
“It is obvious that due to the situation in Ukraine, we are preparing for various scenarios,” Kaminski said on Sunday in a Twitter post. “One of them is the actions of the provinces related to the possible influx of refugees from Ukraine, who, due to a possible conflict, may seek safe haven in our country.”
The statement came as the US and its NATO allies continued to voice concerns of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Sunday that an alleged Russian military buildup near Ukraine’s borders suggests that an attack could come “at any time.” However, Moscow has denied that it intends to invade Ukraine and has blamed NATO members for escalating tensions in the region.
Local officials in Polish cities have been directed in recent weeks to make plans for the possible arrival of refugees from Ukraine. In Ciechanow, about 90km north of Warsaw, Mayor Krzysztof Kosinski said he had been asked to make a list of potential refugee facilities, including estimated costs and the number of people who could be hosted. Buildings may need to be made ready at 48 hours’ notice.
US officials estimate that as many as five million refugees will flee Ukraine if Russia invades, the Washington Post reported earlier this month, citing “intelligence assessments.” Washington is sending 3,000 more troops to Poland, and according to a Wall Street Journal report, the White House has approved plans for US forces in the region to help American citizens departing Ukraine. The outlet said approximately 30,000 American citizens are in the former Soviet republic.
The US State Department, which is evacuating most of its embassy staff in Kiev, said on Saturday that it’s “past time” for Americans to leave Ukraine. US citizens may now cross into Poland by land without advanced approval, the department noted. Americans entering Poland will need to provide proof of Covid-19 vaccination, however.
Back in 2016, Poland claimed to have taken in one million Ukrainian refugees after hostilities broke out between the breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine and Kiev in 2014, using the alleged influx as justification to resist accommodating large numbers of asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa. Ukrainian ambassador Andrii Deshchytsia denied the assertion at the time, saying that nearly one million of his countrymen in Poland were economic migrants with visas or residency permits.