April 14. 2024. 7:41

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Poland cuts funding for Ukrainian refugees by half

Ukrainian refugees in Poland will have to cover half of their accommodation costs from March onwards, according to plans the European Commission says it was not notified of.

From 1 March, Ukrainian refugees that stay in Poland for more than 120 days and live in common housing facilities have to cover half of their accommodation costs with a cap of 40 zlotys (€8.50) per day.

Vulnerable groups, including children, retirees, pregnant women, single parents, parents with children under 12, and people in a particularly difficult financial situation, are exempted.

Refugees will have to cover 75% of their accommodation costs from May onwards if they stay in Poland for longer than 180 days. This will be capped at 60 zlotys (€12.73) per day.

EU money not enough

Poland received about 500,000 Ukrainian refugees since the start of the war in February 2022 and provided them with common housing facilities, including room and board.

For the 80,000 refugees who are still in Poland, however, the government says it can no longer afford to fund their stay to the degree it does now.

On top of accommodation, refugees benefit from other state-funded perks, including free public transport and healthcare, as well as many of the social welfare benefits that are available for Polish citizens, including a monthly child benefit of 500 zlotys (€107). These will not be impacted.

In 2022, Poland spent about €8.36 billion on Ukrainian refugees 2022, according to the OECD’s Migration Outlook for 2022, cited by the Polish government.

Poland thus spent the most on Ukrainian refugees, with funds totalling one-third of the overall spending by all countries in the report, the OECD’s report notes.

As it received the biggest number of Ukrainian refugees, Poland received €123 million under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF).

Under the “Stand Up for Ukraine” global pledging event that raised €9.1 billion, “ Poland received €200 million to provide first assistance (food, transport and temporary accommodation) to those fleeing the war in Ukraine, to increase capacity in external borders management as well as to bridge the gap between first reception and early integration of persons displaced from Ukraine,” the Commission noted.

However, while the money received was of “little help” considering the overall cost of maintaining refugees, Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński said it showed that the EU appreciates Poland.

As another explanation for its move, the government said the optimum help for refugees should last no longer than a year, according to experts in the field. Providing them with assistance would demotivate them and make it difficult for them to return to the labour market.

EU aware but not notified

Asked by EURACTIV.pl whether Poland had notified the European Commission about its plans to make refugees pay accommodation fees, the EU executive said no.

Still, the Commission remains aware of the adoption of the new law and is in contact with the Polish authorities on this topic.

“The Commission is closely monitoring the situation in Poland and is in regular contact with the Polish authorities concerning the practical implementation of the Temporary Protection Directive to ensure that relevant safeguards are in place regarding accommodation of displaced people under temporary protection,” the Commission’s spokesperson added.

Criticism from refugee aid organisations

Poland’s move was criticised by the Migration Consortium, an association assembling 10 organisations that fight for the rights of migrants and refugees.

“The government should withdraw from (introducing) the obligation for the female refugees to participate in covering the costs of living in common accommodation facilities,” they wrote in their report “Polish School of Help,” published last month.

“Refugees would have to move out from the common accommodation centres due to the costs. But they have no place to go. We (in Poland) do not have a sufficient system of help for the homeless or even affordable flats,” he said, explaining that even those employed often cannot afford to rent a flat.

According to Klaus, the government should launch initiatives that would facilitate moving out from the common accommodation centres to other places co-financed by the state.

“People in need must not be forced to pay for bad-quality accommodation and tackle other obstacles. That step by the government puts paid to longtime efforts by the society in providing help (to the refugees),” he added.

Further EU support for Poland possible

About the EU providing Poland with additional funds for refugees in the future, the Commission told EURACTIV.pl that the new generation of Home Affairs funds for 2021-27 will also open the door to significant extra resources for member states to ensure adequate reception facilities, including specialised support to vulnerable persons, and to manage asylum procedures.

The allocation to Poland amounts to €237 million under AMIF and €162.4 million under Border Management and Visa Instrument (BMVI), which will be essential to respond to the new challenges as they evolve, including through the implementation, said the press service.

The funds will help member states with their migration, and border management needs to assist those fleeing the war in Ukraine, especially as regards first reception needs such as emergency accommodation, food, healthcare and extra staff, it explained.

“The Commission stands ready to support Poland operationally and financially,” the Commission concluded.

(Aleksandra Krzysztoszek | EURACTIV.pl)