On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Appearing on television from an undisclosed location, Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, warned the world that Vladimir Putin was attacking not only his country, but waging "a war against Europe."
Following the all-out invasion of Ukraine by land, air and sea, Ukrainians began fleeing their homes in the eastern part of the country. Most were headed to other parts of Ukraine, while others began to trickle across international borders into Poland and other Central European countries. It is hard to predict how many of the 44 million Ukrainians will seek refugee outside the borders of their country.
When refugees flee, we watch who offers safe haven and assistance.
Hours after the Russian attack on Ukraine, the Bureau for Foreigners’ Affairs in the Polish Ministry of Interior set up a website, in Polish and in Ukrainian, offering information on available assistance to Ukrainian refugees. The website provides legal information on how to launch an asylum claim and regularize one’s stay in Poland. It also provides scannable QR codes for eight reception centers near crossing points on the 500-kilometer Polish-Ukrainian border. Adam Niedzielski, the Polish Health Minister, said Poland will set up a special medical train to ferry injured people to 120 Polish hospitals. “We think that at this moment it would be possible to accept several thousand patients — wounded in military actions,” he told Politico.
Poland has even made an exception for Ukrainians evacuating with their pets. The Chief Veterinarian of Poland has eased restrictions on dogs and cats crossing the Polish border.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Ukrainians (and their pets) should receive as much assistance as they need, but the irony of this immediate offer to help, extended by the Polish government and the rest of the Visegrád 4, is not lost on me.
The Ukrainian refugees are white, European, and Christian. They are the “deserving refugees.”
Slovakia’s Prime Minister explicitly stated that everyone fleeing the war deserves help according to international law. The Visegrád group’s position was quite different following the “refugee crisis” of 2015.
The Polish government led by the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party refused to take part in the EU efforts to relocate and resettle asylum seekers arriving in other member countries. Hungary recruited border hunters and erected barbed wire fence along its border with Serbia. On September 16, 2016, the V4 issued a joint statement expressing concern about the decreasing sense of security resulting from the arrival of Muslim refugees from war-torn Syria; vowing to cooperate with third countries to protect borders, and calling for “flexible solidarity.”
I am glad that Poland, my country of birth, wants to extend a helping hand to Ukrainians fleeing war and accept as many as one million refugees if necessary.
At the same time, I cannot forget the Afghans and Syrians at the Polish-Belarusian border, dying in the cold winter forest in an attempt to cross into Poland to launch an asylum claim. They are kept at arm’s length. Because they are Muslim, the Polish government sees them as a security threat. Citing danger to Polish citizens living in the borderlands, on September 2, 2021, the President of Poland declared a state of emergency in 15 localities in the Podlasie Province and 68 localities in the Lublin Province.
These brown and non-Christian asylum seekers are apparently not the deserving ones.