Appeal by Ukrainian organisations in Poland to the Polish Government and the Border Guard

We thank you for your support of Ukrainian refugees and ask for similar concern for refugees arriving across the Polish-Belarusian border

Our organisations - the Union of Ukrainians in Poland and the Our Choice Foundation, which runs the Ukrainian House in Warsaw - have been working for years to promote cultural exchange and support the integration of people from Ukraine living in Poland. We care for preservation of identity and memory of the past. We draw from the rich diversity of Ukrainian culture and borderland culture. We work for Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation, we participate in initiatives for dialogue. We support Ukrainian male and female migrants in Poland, helping them to integrate into Polish society and culture, and we carry out projects aimed at introducing Polish women and men to Ukrainian culture. We also advocate for equal and fair treatment of migrant women and men from Ukraine, opposing violence motivated by prejudice, discrimination, and exploitation in the labour market.

Although filled with fear and anxiety, since the first days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have been hopeful to see the courage and resistance put up by the Ukrainian people to the occupier. From the first days, we have been active in supporting the defence effort in Ukraine and in supporting refugees coming to Poland. We are also encouraged by the welcoming and open attitude of the Polish people, who from the very first days have been doing their utmost to provide shelter and living conditions in these difficult days. We appreciate all the efforts of the Polish authorities to streamline procedures and create a framework for faster and more efficient integration, for example through job opportunities or access to social benefits and medical care.

We would like to recall here the words of Olena Zelenska, the First Lady of Ukraine, addressed to the European community, including Poland in particular: "I want to thank all Europeans who are now helping our people, giving them homes, food. Like us, you were not prepared to have so many traumatised people in your country. But the way you have reacted is worthy of a collective Nobel Peace Prize. Ukrainians are a wonderful people and very grateful. Our children will never forget what you have done for us'. We strongly subscribe to these words and thank you on behalf of ourselves and our loved ones.

Until 28 March 2022. Poland has already taken in over 2.3 million refugees. These people are already receiving a helping hand from border guards and other uniformed services and authorities, as well as from millions of Polish women and men. We see this clearly and we are grateful for it. At the same time, from a refugee perspective, the plight of the remaining people fleeing war and violence is all the more clear. We have been observing with concern the ongoing humanitarian crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border since August 2021. The migration route through Belarus is, of course, the result of the cynical and cruel political actions of Alyaksandr Lukashenko's regime. It should, however, be remembered that the people who decide to make this crossing most often come from countries wracked by war or armed conflict, where they are threatened by poverty and persecution on ethnic, religious or political grounds. These are people who, like refugees from Ukraine, are entitled to protection.

That is why we read with amazement announcements of the Border Guard informing about the detention and immediate expulsion of 'illegal immigrants' from the Middle East or Africa back to Belarus. The procedure of deportation is illegal and, above all, unethical, as it exposes those being expelled to the risk of losing their health or even their lives. We are astonished that Poland, the same country that is helping the Ukrainian refugees in such a wonderful way, is so shamelessly and cruelly taking refugee families from outside Europe to the woods and dumping them in Belarus. Even infants, small children, people with disabilities and the seriously ill fall victim to deportation from Poland to Belarus. This is happening in spite of the fact that these people are threatened with torture and violence in Belarus.

As organisations working for equal and fair treatment of migrant women and migrants from Ukraine, we oppose violence motivated by prejudice and discrimination. Therefore, we feel obliged to speak out about people coming to Poland via the Belarusian route. The policy of deportation, criminalisation and making it impossible to provide humanitarian aid is condemning these people to at least loss of health or even death. We thank you wholeheartedly for supporting the refugees from Ukraine, but we do not agree with the racial segregation of refugees at the border.