New York: With more than 3.5 million people having fled to Poland since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, continues to scale up its operations to provide aid to arrivals, the agency’s spokesperson said on Friday.
“Poland remains the main country of arrival for refugees from Ukraine,” UNHCR spokesperson Olga Sarrado told journalists at a regular press briefing in Geneva.
And while the pace has slowed in comparison to early March – when over 100,000 people were arriving per day – May has continued to witness around 20,000 daily arrivals.
Although more people are going back and forth across the Ukraine border – for reasons including visiting family or returning to jobs – Ms. Sarrado said that given the ongoing hostilities, “Poland expects to continue receiving and hosting a considerable number of refugees.”
“Newly arrived refugees often come from areas heavily affected by the fighting, some having spent weeks hiding in bomb shelters and basements,” she updated the press.
“They often arrive in a state of distress and anxiety, having left family members behind, without a clear plan for where to go, and with less economic resources and connections than those who fled earlier.”
In need of services
Along with queries on transportation, financial support, accommodation and access to social services, the refugees’ main concerns revolve around health services and medical needs.
“Poland has put in place systems to ensure legal stay, access to employment, education, health care and other social welfare schemes for Ukrainian refugees,” said the UNHCR spokesperson.
The Polish authorities have registered over 1.1 million people, 94 per cent of whom are women and children, providing them with a state ID number that enables access to services.
Supporting government-led efforts, UNHCR is helping with protection services, cash assistance, emergency supplies and reception capacity.
“UNHCR rolled out its cash assistance programme in March,” said Ms. Sarrado, adding that to date, the agency has established eight cash enrolment centres in main refugee hosting areas, including Warsaw, Krakow, Poznan, Wroclaw, Ostroda, Gdynia and Gdansk.
“Over 100,000 refugees from Ukraine have already received financial support from UNHCR to cover their basic needs, such as paying rent or buying food and medicine.”
Cash is provided for a three-month period to those most in need – serving as a transitional emergency safety net – until they can better support themselves or be included in government social protection systems.
“Almost 20 per cent of refugees enrolled for cash assistance have specific needs,” she explained.
In conjunction with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UNHCR has set up 12 Blue Dot Safe Spaces in Poland, where refugees can receive immediate psychosocial support and access information on rights and services.
Critical protection assistance is also provided to people with specific needs, including referrals to specialized services and legal counselling.
Meanwhile, UNHCR continues to deliver humanitarian supplies into Ukraine from Poland, and has, so far, dispatched 139 aid trucks to help displaced and conflict-affected people inside the country.
“People and authorities of Poland have shown extraordinary generosity in welcoming refugees from Ukraine,” said Ms. Sarrado. “Strong commitment and support from the international community will be crucial to sustain this solidarity”.
UNHCR stands ready to continue assisting the Polish authorities in ensuring that refugee needs are protected, met with dignity, and can transition to sustainable solutions.
In support of the Government-led response, UNHCR has coordinated the development of an Inter-Agency Regional Refugee Response Plan which brings together 87 partners in Poland.
Calling for $740.6 million to cover Poland’s prioritized needs, the UNHCR spokesperson informed the journalists that the plan is only 25 per cent funded.