Iwona looks for contact details of people who are willing to help refugees through online forums and by calling municipalities and assistance centres. Marianna has developed a project to rent accommodation to families from Ukraine. Both women emphasise that two aspects are important in the relocation process: time, and understanding the needs of both the refugee families and the hosts who have decided to accommodate them. – We idealise refugees a bit. I have realised that sending a refugee anywhere to anyone could be a mistake – says Iwona, and gives us examples of failed relocations.
Iwona and Marianna met by accident through a support group on Facebook. Both women have been involved in helping refugees from the very start, although they operate in slightly different ways. Women are well aware of the fundamental problems that can occur when relocating refugees. “It is important to be clear who you want to take under your roof and on what terms” – says Iwona, who is helping refugees from the market halls in Nadarzyn. “There is often talk of giving the rod rather than the fish. In my opinion, wellingtons and a good fish bucket are also needed” – adds Marianna.
“The Ptak Expo exhibition hall was stuffed full”
Iwona started helping refugees by working on the Home for Independent Mothers project, which is now supervised by the Open Dialogue Foundation. As she was picking up one family from the hall in Nadarzyn, she realised that this initiative was not enough, as there were far more people in need of long-term help.
– It was the onset of the war. I went to Ptak exhibition hall together with my son. We put on our volunteer vests. There were ten thousand completely confused people in the hall.
There was complete chaos on site. The information centre was just being set up. Crowds were already gathering in front of the exhibition hall. At one point something unexpected happened. Iwona and her son’s reflective vests attracted people’s attention and a queue of those in need started to line up right in front of them. With the help of a boy who spoke Russian, Iwona managed to understand the basic problems of Ukrainians. Most of them did not know how to get out of Nadarzyn, they also did not understand the Polish language and, most importantly, they had nowhere to go.
While working in Nadarzyn, Iwona met an elderly couple who very much desired to join their daughter in the town of Radomsko. Unfortunately, it was no longer possible to locate any more people at the place where the woman was staying. The volunteer’s goal was to help the couple be as close to their family as possible. With the help of her sister, she called the local municipality and found for the couple a place close to their daughter. This was how her adventure in relocation began.
“You just need to understand the expectations on both sides”
When a family that needs to be relocated shows up at the expo hall, Iwona calls out to municipalities, sometimes she posts a message on an aid groups on social media. She tries to match potential hosts with specific refugees in such a way that the expectations of both parties are aligned.
– We idealise refugees a bit. I have realised that sending a refugee anywhere to anyone could be a mistake. The other party also has its own requirements too, and this must be accepted” she emphasises.
She adds that there are also situations where the host persons had a completely different idea of the family they were accommodating.
– The host is entitled to have his requirements too. He can expect, for example, the persons he accommodates to go to work and their children to go to school. And not everyone arriving is willing to work. And also not everyone is ready to receive strangers. You can come across problematic people too.
During the relocation process, Iwona also came across refugees who were not happy with the presented offers. Anyone who has fled war-torn Ukraine comes from a different background, has different habits. Iwona tries to take into account as many factors as possible.
“You won’t always find the perfect refugee“
Currently, almost every relocation process is successful. At first, there were various unforeseen situations. This caused Iwona to act in a more deliberate manner.
– I was approached by a person who had established a home for refugee women. She was very keen to take in a mother with a baby. I just didn’t have anyone for her who met these conditions. But at the end of the day, a distraught woman approached me, telling me that she couldn’t stay here with two small children. She had arrived at the Ptak expo hall a day or two earlier. I asked the hostess of the hostel to accommodate this family. She was picked up on the same day and it was a mistake – she says.
Iwona explains that the Ukrainian woman was not screened properly. It later turned out that she was addicted to alcohol. The woman found a bottle of alcohol and started taunting other refugee women. Problems arose by the end of the day.
– I didn’t know what to do. Should I subject these children to another trauma? I wanted to arrange psychological counselling for this woman and transfer her to a place where she could fight her addiction. I didn’t make it. In the meantime, she had left for a friend’s place in Ilawa, and had lost contact with her.
A full-time job
Currently, the screening of refugees takes several days. This allows you to monitor their behaviour, see how they treat their children and whether they have any addictions. The relocation process then goes much more smoothly. Anyone wishing to host a family from Ukraine is also thoroughly checked. The person who comes to pick up the refugees is also checked. ID details are taken down and Iwona is given the phone number of the hosts to keep in touch with them.
During the past months, Iwona relocated up to a dozen people a day. There have also been particularly difficult cases among them.
– I found out about a mum with two children who is going through addiction treatment because she was a heroin addict. She was running out of her medication. She needed to receive specialist care to ensure she did not relapse into her addiction. One Facebook group helped us. Ms. Adriana Porowska from the Camillian Mission for Social Assistance sent me a message and offered to help. The addicted woman has moved into their facility with her children, where she is continuing her therapy, says Iwona.
The vast majority of refugees are women and children. However, there are specific situations where accommodation is sought by men. This was the case for a 40-year-old visually impaired Ukrainian citizen. The man was able to take care of himself, but could not take up any job. Our post on the group was read by a representative of the Ari Ari Foundation, who offered us a solution. The 40-year-old man and another visually impaired refugee were taken to Denmark to a special centre. Of course, all details had been verified in advance by the embassy.
No one wanted to accept her because of her beauty type
When Iwona was looking for accommodation for one of the refugees, she got to know Marianna. It was her who helped find accommodation for a woman who had been waiting for a fortnight for lodging proposals, but no one wanted to take her in because of her beauty type. This is because everyone thought she was of Romani origin. During the conversation with the volunteer, it turned out that she had a Ukrainian passport and that she had come to Ukraine 32 years ago. Marianne provided the woman and her children with a place to stay, and herself made friends with Iwona. Since then they have been working together – Marianna arranges accommodation and Iwona finds families in need.
“Places are needed for a fresh start”
Thanks to her excellent organisational skills, Marianne has created a well-functioning system. She is now in charge of finding and renting out long-term accommodation. Families who come to the designated locations are provided not only with accommodation, but also with all the necessary equipment, facilities, job offers and necessary documents. Municipalities are also involved in the assistance process, and funds for refugee maintenance are raised from third-party sponsors from around the world.
– Our role is to help a selected family and raise funds to support them from A to Z. This enables family members to get back on their feet within a few months. Sponsors send money for specific purposes, and they have a precise overview of what their money is being spent on – emphasises Marianna.
All activities are carefully documented and, with the family’s consent, photographs are also sent. Time appears to be of the essence. The sooner refugees get documents and accommodation, the sooner they can become independent and integrate into the society. They receive prepaid accommodation for one year, sometimes even for two years. At the moment, 16 Ukrainian families take advantage of the assistance under the project.
A long-term system is needed
Marianna claims that if more Polish entrepreneurs took on similar projects, aid could be provided on a wider scale. The most important thing is to be well organised – to be specific, and to emphasise what the money is actually needed for.
Iwona adds that some Poles make “complaints” about refugees because they are tired of helping. Without the awareness of the fact that relocation is a long-term process, and the lack of an adequate support system, we may at some point have a problem with large numbers of homeless women with children.