They leave their homes, their possessions, often their loved ones. And they flee into the unknown. Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the Open Dialogue Foundation has been helping refugees, soldiers and the wounded. Now it has released a moving spot. Money is running out and there are more and more problems. “We already have people coming to us who have taken refugees under their roof but would like their lives back already. You cannot blame them. I am afraid of the phenomenon of homelessness and hunger that may appear,” says Kajetan Wróblewski from the Foundation.
The members of the Foundation remember well the first days of the war. They did what everyone else did. They drove to the border, picking up thousands of people who were waiting there. Mothers, children, the elderly, the sick. The cars drove practically non-stop. Then there was the search for accommodation for those who found their way to Poland.
This is how the Houses for Independent Mothers were set up, this is how cooperation with donors began. But things are changing, and not only for those fleeing the war.
Will there be more homeless people in Poland?
“The dynamics of change is enormous,” admits Bartosz Kramek of Open Dialogue Foundation in an interview with Onet. “Our activities are evolving all the time. At the beginning we focused on bulletproof vests and helmets. This equipment was in short supply everywhere and the prices were crazy. People could push their way through warehouses, snatching equipment from each other. Especially the soldiers of territorial defence who were initially running around in the trainers. They had nothing. At the time, we focused on responding to these needs. At one point we even started our own production of waistcoats,” he adds.
Here again, there were people who wanted to help. There were soldiers from the United States, military specialists. They were the ones who helped create the right bulletproof vests, resistant to the right kinds of weapons.
But it is not only the needs of the Ukrainian army that have changed since the beginning of the war. Much has changed with regard to refugees. For several weeks now, more and more people have decided to return to Ukraine. However, more are arriving. And funding for aid is running out.
“We predicted that the mobilisation of Poles – although fantastic – has limits to its capacity and cannot replace a coordinated policy at government and local government level. It has to be support, or at least serious facilitation and incentives of a systemic nature, which are lacking. This is starting to become apparent. We receive more and more signals that people would like to return to normality, that they can no longer cope financially or even mentally.
They cannot be blamed for this. We are still afraid that at some point the spectre of a humanitarian crisis will become very real,” Kramek tells Onet.
Open Dialogue is largely concerned with the relocation of refugees. Those who had to leave their previous accommodation or those who did not manage to rent anything on their own. It is easier for the Foundation, it is more credible than a “mother with three children of foreign citizenship”. Some stay in Poland, others go further west. Volunteers are taking care of that, because – as they say – there is no government programme, and Poland is not able to accept such a number of refugees.
“There is no relocation programme. Meanwhile, many western countries are willing to accept refugees, and there is a social willingness to do so. Poland is not in a position to accept all refugees with dignity and to house them. The government is not raising the issue at all, let alone taking action. We do it, to the best of our abilities, but we are only a small Foundation,” says Kramek.
Kajetan Wróblewski, who coordinates matters related to the relocation of refugees in the Open Dialogue, is of the same opinion. After all, he has been dealing with this issue for years. Long before the outbreak of war in Ukraine, he was helping refugees.
“The symbol of refugees has become a woman with a child, often women with several children. In this situation it is difficult to find work or housing. These people do not want to be social care clients. They want to work and live normally, which is something that Poland is currently unable to provide. We need to think about kindergartens, nurseries and health care. Poland does not have such a huge migration experience. It was not prepared for this.
The government, however, does not seem to notice this. The Polish raison d’etre should be the relocation of refugees. As long as other countries want to accept Ukrainian citizens, we should take advantage of this. As a nation we are warm and hospitable, but a warm heart is no substitute for food and accommodation,” Kajetan Wróblewski tells Onet.
“This could end badly if we don’t start acting systemically”
“Unfortunately, I expect that this could end badly if we don’t start acting systemically. We already have people coming to us who have taken refugees under their roof but would like their lives back already. You cannot blame them. What I fear is the phenomenon of homelessness and hunger that may arise. The aim now should not be to create large
accommodation halls, but to place refugees in places where they can start a relatively normal life. But nobody is doing that,” adds Wróblewski.
Many countries are still happy to accept refugees. Especially the Scandinavian countries. Ireland, among others, is also keen. However, there is another problem here. Again, a financial one.
“At the moment, there aren’t even free COVID-19 tests, while a large number of countries require them on entry. These costs are borne by us. This is a huge problem, because our finances are practically exhausted. We are living off of donations, and people are running out of money,” Wróblewski points out.
Bartosz Kramek also talks about the fact that the halls are not working as originally planned. He recalls Warsaw’s Expo and Ptak halls, which became the only home for many people for a long time.
“In terms of infrastructure, we are not ready now to accept such a large number of people. Of course, there are also halls that were turned into dormitories, like the famous Ptak near Warsaw, but here the initial assumptions do not match reality. The plan was that these people would spend a few days there. Meanwhile, some of them stay in these places for many weeks,” he points out.
That is why Open Dialogue is not only trying to provide a better life for refugees. “In the medium and long term, I see an opportunity: newcomers can give us a developmental boost demographic and infrastructural, new investments will be needed, but we must take care of their integration and adaptation to the needs of the labour market. This is quite a challenge for women caring for children and seniors, but it has to be done. Much depends on the prospect of them being joined by family members who are currently defending the country against Russia. We need a real twofold immigration policy: relocation and integration,” says Kramek.
Relocation within Poland is also a problem. Most refugees prefer to stay in big cities. “It is a question of access to jobs, education. They feel safer in big cities, but this is an illusion. Often these smaller local authorities still have the capacity and want to get involved. In the districts, it is emptier, there is more space and opportunities to accommodate refugees. We have high hopes for the cooperation with local governments,” he adds.
The Open Dialogue Foundation appeals for support. It has so far helped thousands of refugees. The number of people relocated from Poland to other countries alone exceeds 1,500. However, support is needed for further activities.