As Ukraine braces itself against a feared Russian invasion, its European Union neighbors are preparing for a possible influx of thousands, if not millions, of refugees fleeing military operations.
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Poland, which has a long border with Ukraine and is already home to around 1.5 million of its nationals, has expressed its support for the big eastern neighbor and its willingness to help it.
“Poland is preparing for different scenarios related to the tense situation,” the Interior Ministry told AFP on Wednesday.
He said contingency plans for a potential humanitarian crisis were under consideration there even before Russia recognized the independence of rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine and before the response Western through sanctions.
“The Interior Ministry has been taking measures for some time to prepare us for a surge of even up to a million people,” Poland’s Deputy Interior Minister Maciej Wasik said last month.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has since set up a task force to define the logistics, transportation, medical care and education needs needed to receive Ukrainian refugees.
“We are ready to welcome children and young people to schools and students to Polish universities,” Education Minister Przemyslaw Czarnek said on Wednesday.
After her talks in Warsaw on Tuesday, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson told AFP that Poland was “quite well prepared to welcome a large number of Ukrainians”.
According to her, the European Commission was ready to provide this country with economic support if necessary, as well as the help of the European Agency for Asylum, Europol and the European Border Agency, Frontex.
Slovakia, which shares its eastern border with Ukraine, also assures us that it is ready to reach out to him.
“We have ready plans for possible pressure from the refugees,” Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad said on Tuesday.
Interior Minister Roman Mikulec told reporters that there were four refugee camps that could accommodate Ukrainian asylum seekers.
“If the situation requires it, we can also use the existing accommodation facilities of the Ministry of Interior and other ministries,” he added.
Romania, which is one of the poorest countries in Europe, said it did not expect many Ukrainians to flee to its territory, but was ready to take in half of them. million.
“This is the figure for which we are prepared,” Defense Minister Vasile Dancu said on Tuesday.
Romania could set up reception centers, including in major cities along the 650 kilometers of its border with Ukraine, he said.
“Tents, beds, blankets, heaters – everything can be assembled and set up in less than twelve hours,” said Alexandru Moldovan, the prefect of Suceava in the north.
Even Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban is known for his tough stance on migration, seemed ready to welcome refugees.
“In the event of war, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of refugees would arrive from Ukraine and fundamentally reshape the political and economic situation in Hungary,” he recently agreed.
“We are working for peace, but of course designated state agencies have started preparations,” Orban said.
On Tuesday, Hungary announced that it would deploy its troops to the border with Ukraine for security and humanitarian aid purposes.
“(…) If refugees arrive, they must be accommodated and benefit from care”, Defense Minister Tibor Benko noted on Wednesday.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) notes that it has not observed population movements outside the eastern regions of Ukraine, but “the situation remains unpredictable”.
The conflict triggered by Russia with Ukraine could however result in “a new refugee crisis” with “up to five million additional people displaced”, warned on Wednesday the American ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas- Greenfield, before the United Nations General Assembly.
The Norwegian Refugee Council, a leading organization, warned earlier this month that if millions of people were forced to leave their places of residence in this way, aid groups would find it difficult to even respond. to a fraction of their needs.