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15 Jan, 2024 14:45

Poland should prepare for more Ukrainian refugees – deputy FM

Millions more could arrive in the country if the front line shifts to the west, Andrzej Szejna has said
Poland should prepare for more Ukrainian refugees – deputy FM

Poland must be ready to accept even more Ukrainian refugees from the conflict between Moscow and Kiev, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Szejna warned in an interview with the Rzeczpospolita news outlet on Monday.

Since the launch of Russia’s military operation in 2022, Poland has been one of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters in the EU. Besides supplying arms and munitions, it has also taken in an estimated 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees.

At the same time, Warsaw has refused demands from Brussels to accept asylum seekers that have flooded Europe in recent years from regions like North Africa and the Middle East.

Newly-installed Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, whose pro-EU coalition ousted the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party from power last month, has signaled that his government will not change this approach.

Szejna stated that the “fundamental reason” that Poland “cannot be burdened with additional responsibilities in the area of migration” is because it already has its hands full with Ukrainian refugees.

“Although we wish the Ukrainians only victories, we cannot rule out that the Russian offensive will lead to a shift of the front to the west and cause millions of additional Ukrainians to arrive,” he said, noting that this development would be “a huge burden for our country” and insisting that “Polish society must be prepared for this.”

While Kiev maintains the goal of restoring its 1991 borders, its much-touted summer counteroffensive failed to result in any significant territorial gains. Instead, the push resulted in what Moscow described as catastrophic losses for the Ukrainian military. The Russian Defense Ministry has estimated that Kiev suffered around 160,000 casualties during the push and 383,000 since the start of the conflict in February 2022.

Meanwhile, Tusk, who was president of the European Council from 2014 to 2019, has said he will not tolerate any “anti-Ukrainian sentiment” in his government and stressed that Kiev needs the backing of Warsaw and the entire West. He also called upon Europe to “rise to the occasion” and invest even more into Ukraine, adding that Poland would not be able to “cope financially” with the burden on its own.

However, Tusk has admitted that a “second dimension” exists in Polish-Ukrainian relations, referring to a series of recent spats between the two countries, particularly regarding agriculture and grain imports. “The Poles want to help Ukraine, but they can’t be harmed by the Ukrainians,” he explained.