On June 20, the World Refugee Day, after the NIEM partnership conference in Brussels, the Institute of Public affairs and Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union organised a panel debate to discuss the experiences of Poland, Hungary & Romania in hosting and integrating the newly arriving refugees from Ukraine.
Russia's brutal war of aggression against Ukraine has forced over 13 million Ukrainians to flee their homes since 24 February 2022. Over half of them – 6.8 million – have sought refuge in neighbouring EU countries, of which 5.2 million are now in Poland, Romania and Hungary (data from UNHCR, as of the end of June, 2022). In reaction to the high numbers of refugees arriving in the European Union, the Council of the EU activated the Temporary Protection Directive for the first time since it came into force in 2001. The directive, much the same as the national law in Poland introduced in reaction to the current situation, allows for very quick access to public services such as housing, education and health care, but also for fast access to the labour market for the people provided for under this extraordinary measure.
However, the results of a six-year long research project by the National Integration Evaluation Mechanism (NIEM) show that Poland, Hungary and Romania, of all the 14 countries under study, rank the lowest in terms of providing comprehensive and long-term support to beneficiaries of international protection. The comparative analysis shows that there is a lack of implementation of the appropriate legal framework, while integration policies often remain outside the mainstream of public policies.
Anna Dolińska from IPA, Poland, Béla Soltész from Menedék, Hungary and Ovidiu Voicu from The Center for Public Innovation, Romania, shared the latest facts and figures, as well as spoke about the challenges, which the current reception and integration measures pose for their respective countries and civil societies. Their speeches were complemented by the presentation of Kamilla Solieva, the policy adviser of MEP Damian Boeselager, who unfortunately did not manage to attend the discussion in person.
The lessons learned from the Ukrainian refugee situation bring us to the general conclusions that modern history shows crises happen and will happen. Therefore, there is an urgent need to build a long-term refugee integration policy, also in countries like Poland, Hungary and Romania which thus far have not been the major destinations for non-EU nationals. The immediate response of civil society and people’s commitment to helping neighbours is a beautiful gesture of solidarity, empathy and help, but such ad-hoc activities and shifting the burden of support and coordination onto NGOs and local-governments will not replace permanent mechanisms of action, relief and long-term integration support, coordinated and financed by central authorities. Especially that long-term, structural investments in social housing, healthcare, education and integration will be of benefit to everybody – beneficiaries of international protection and citizens.