Panel Transcript: Ukrainian Refugees

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Event Summary

A panel discussion was held and sponsored jointly by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and the Hungarian Migration Research Institute (MRI), which examined the challenges posed by the Ukrainian refugee crisis. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unleashed a deluge of refugees on Europe comparable in size only to the massive displacement of people at the end of World War II. Front-line countries in Europe – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova, and Romania – opened their borders to those fleeing Ukraine, and the EU in an historic decision offered them temporary protection, including the right to work. The United States has focused on helping Ukrainians where they are in Europe, pledging up to $5 billion in humanitarian assistance. In addition, however, the Biden administration has pledged to take in 100,000 Ukrainians, granted Temporary Protected Status to those already in the U.S., and created the “Unity for Ukraine” program to allow individuals to sponsor Ukrainians who don't want to stay in the EU.

As the war rages on, and a speedy return of refugees seems less and less likely, it is time to compare the policies enacted by stakeholders and explore the different challenges faced by front-line states and destination countries. To do this, researchers from Europe and the U.S. joined with a top official from Poland involved in that nation's response to the crisis.


Jadwiga Emilewicz, Member of the Parliament of Poland and former Deputy Prime Minister: Poland

Kristof Gyorgy Veres, Andrássy National Security Fellow (CIS-MRI): Hungary and the EU

Mark Vargha, Researcher (MRI): Romania and Moldova

Nayla Rush, Senior Researcher (CIS): United States


Jadwiga Emilewicz Presentation

Kristof Gyorgy Veres Presentation

Mark Vargha Presentation

Nayla Rush Report


Date and Location:

June 15, 2022

Army Navy Club

Washington, DC

MARK KRIKORIAN: Good morning. My name is Mark Krikorian. I’m executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

And we’re doing this panel because, obviously, the Ukrainian refugee issue is a big deal both for the United States, which is the main focus of the Center for Immigration Studies’ work, and, obviously, even more so in Europe. And so what we wanted to do is bring people who have experience and have looked at the issue of dealing with this Ukrainian refugee crisis following the Russian invasion from both sides of the Atlantic.

And so we have some notable and informed speakers on this. Our first speaker is going to be Kristof Veres, who’s a senior researcher at the Migration Research Institute in Budapest and a visiting fellow here at the Center for Immigration Studies. And he’s going to talk about the European Union response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis.

Our next speaker is Jadwiga Emilewicz, who is a member of the Polish parliament, former deputy prime minister, and is a special advisor to the prime minister on the refugee issue. So she’s uniquely placed to talk about Poland’s experience with Ukrainian refugees, and of course Poland is the one that’s hosting the largest number. And she’s going to be releasing some data that they’ve done from a survey that has not been released before this.

Our third speaker will be Mark Vargha, who’s a senior researcher at the Migration Research Institute in Budapest. And he examined the situation in Romania and Moldova and will be talking some about how they have dealt with the Ukrainian refugee issue.

And then, last but not least, Nayla Rush, a senior researcher at CIS, will talk about the U.S. response, specifically this Uniting for Ukraine program and more broadly how the United States has responded to the Ukrainian refugee issue.

Once they’re all finished, I’ll moderate Q&A. But we’ll start with Kristof.


Since the onset of the Russian invasion, roughly one-third of Ukrainians have been forced from their homes. This is the largest human displacement crisis in the world today. According to new UNHCR estimate, more than 7 million people remain internally displaced within Ukraine and more than 15 million people require immediate humanitarian assistance inside Ukraine. According to estimates, more than 4.9 million Ukrainian refugees are inside the EU right now.

At the beginning of the crisis, everyone was referencing the border-crossing data, like now many people crossed into Poland, how many people crossed into Hungary. But, honestly, it’s difficult to estimate the percentage of Ukrainians that were just guest workers commuting back and forth and also those ones who continue to other European countries inside the Schengen area.

On the map that you can see on the screen, the refugee population corresponds with the size of the green circles. This is based on estimates, not on border crossings. Obviously, the most refugees are in Poland, 1.1 million. The second country is Germany, with 780,000. Germany is not a frontline country, obviously. The third one is the Czech Republic, with 360,000 people. In Hungary, there are approximately 100(,000), 120,000 refugees; in Romania, 90,000; and in Slovakia, 78,000. The refugees arriving from Ukraine are mostly children and women and elderly people because Ukraine prohibited men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country to make them available for military conscription.

I put this map up for two reasons. This is a map from Frontex, the European border and coastal agency.

The first is to show the distribution of internally displaced people, or IDPs, inside Ukraine. As you can see, in the western region of the country there are more than 2 million IDPs. Obviously, this is the part of the country which is furthest from the war. At the same time, where the fighting is the most intense – in the eastern region – we also have approximately 2 million people. In the central and north region of the country, we have approximately 1.5 million people in the north and 1.5 million in the central region.

The second reason this map is important is because of the recent – very recent trends in the refugee movement. During the first week of June, almost 18,000 more Ukrainians left the EU and returned to Ukraine as opposed to those who left – and during the last week of May this number was 40,000. So right now there is more people returning to Ukraine than are leaving the country. This was also recently confirmed by the Ukrainian national railways, that noted that the trains coming to Kyiv from the western region to the country are usually 90, 95 percent full or very full at the end of May and at the beginning of – beginning of June.

Now I’m going to talk a bit about the European – the EU’s response to the – to the crisis. The European response to the refugee crisis was swift and decisive. The EU triggered the Temporary Protection Directive on the 4th of March, which gives temporary protection for all people that have a legal residence in Ukraine, so not just citizens. They have a residence permit for the entire duration of the protection, access to employment, housing, social welfare, medical treatment, education, but they don’t have to go through the lengthy asylum process of European countries. The only – the directive postulates that even though the Ukrainians entering the bloc can choose where they register for the Temporary Protection Directive, but once they register in one specific country then they have to stay in that country and they can only receive the benefits in that specific country. At the beginning of June, approximately 3.2 million Ukrainians have registered for the temporary protection schemes of the 27 European countries.

Now moving on to Hungary specifically. It is very important to note that refugees are not only crossing directly from Ukraine but also a significant number of people crossed into Hungary from Romania. Since the start of the invasion 1.2 million Ukrainian citizens and legal residents crossed into Hungary from Ukraine and from Romania, but most of these people didn’t choose to stay in this country. As of – as of last week, only 24,000 claims were submitted to the Hungarian authorities for temporary protection. The actual number of Ukrainian refugees in Hungary is higher, though. According to government estimates, it should be between 100,000 and 140,000 people at the end of May.

I have to stress, again, that since Hungary doesn’t have border controls with Austria, Slovakia, and Slovenia, it’s difficult to estimate how many people actually leave the country after entering it from Ukraine and Romania. Because of this trend that I just described, Hungary can be identified not just as a frontline country, but also as a transit country during this refugee crisis, which means that most of the refugees in Hungary only require temporary help before they continue their journey to other European country.

The cornerstone of the Hungarian government’s response to the refugee crisis was that they distributed a large amount of funds among refugee NGOs and they also took the role to coordinate their activities so that the – so that to maximize the efficiency of these resources and to avoid duplications of the efforts of NGOs. On the – on the map that you can see on the screen, this is the Hungarian-Ukrainian border. We have five border crossings which now are operating 24/7.

At the – at the border, the Ukrainian refugees have 24/7 access to medical care in temporary facilities. These facilities are equipped by mobile pharmacies to provide medicine for chronic diseases. The bulk of the medicine comes from the National Health Care Reserve, which is Hungary’s strategic stockpile of medical supplies. With the refugee flows significantly abating, these facilities set up at the border, also the temporary shelters, right now are mostly empty.

Now I shortly would like to touch on a very specific issue relating to Hungary. Here you can see the ethnic map of Ukraine. And the little – very little – orange spot on the western part of the country is the Hungarian ethnic minorities. Here is the – another map enlarging the region. According to a 2017 estimate, there were around 150,000 ethnic Hungarians in the Trans-Carpathia region, the part – the part of Ukraine which is enlarged on the map. Already in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea, there was a spike of Hungarian emigration. This, after the start of the war, turned into a mass exodus. There are some Hungarian-majority sub-county administrative units in the Trans-Carpathia region where up to 50 percent of the population left and moved into Hungary, while at the same time thousands and thousands of Ukrainian IDPs are moving into the region to flee the invasion and the war in the eastern part of the country. So this can be described as a huge demographic shift in the region that the region itself hasn’t seen since the end of World War II.

There is another issue that I would like to talk about. Since the start of the war, the European Union – and specifically Poland and Hungary – have been accused of applying racist double standards to the treatment of Middle Eastern and African refugees at the border. This has been widely publicized in the mainstream American press. These allegations, however, miss basic facts.

It is true that Ukrainian nationals can cross into the EU much easier than African nationals, but this is only because of simple administrative reasons. Since 2017 Ukrainians with a valid biometric passport can enter and stay in the Schengen area for 90 days without visa, which significantly speeds up their admission as refugees into the EU. In contrast, nationals of third countries, when lacking a visa to the Schengen area, fleeing the invasion they have to go through a registration process at the border which usually includes an interview, national security screening, and the issuance of a temporary residence permit. The frustration of African students waiting at the EU border to be registered watching Caucasian Ukrainians waved through without a delay is understandable, but it has nothing to do with racism.

The above-mentioned extra mechanisms ensure the protection of the external borders of the EU and they are indispensable even during a refugee crisis. These mechanisms, however, are also in place to protect third-country nationals who are fleeing the conflict. At the beginning of the conflict, a large number of Ukrainian refugees didn’t really need substantial help for the countries receiving them because they already had friends and relatives in the EU whom they could rely on. This was not the case, obviously, for third-country nationals fleeing the war. Upon entering the Schengen area, they usually found themself in a vacuum. And it was during these registration mechanisms that they learned about their options and could request to stay in the EU or ask for help to return home.

During the first 10 day(s) of the conflict the EU countries scrambled to help evacuate 18,000 Indians, with Hungary alone assisting more than 6,000. Consequently, it’s no surprise that the Indian prime minister thanked Budapest for its effort to help Indian nationals fleeing the war. Moreover, Hungary helped to accommodate Somali as well as Bangladeshi students, even offering them the chance to continue their studies at Hungarian universities. These actions are anything but racist.

What are the challenges for the future? If the war continues up until the winter, it could trigger a second wave of refugees. First of all, Ukraine does not have enough natural gas or oil to last through the winter. And even if it did, the damage to the country’s civilian infrastructure is significant. For example, in Kharkiv 80 percent of windows on residential buildings were shattered because of the widespread use of cluster munitions by the Russian army. Cluster munitions detonate in the air and release a cluster of smaller bombs which fall incrementally over a wide area, potentially putting civilians at risk. Obviously, during the summer broken windows are not a huge problem. But during the winter in the eastern part of Ukraine, especially if you don’t have proper heating or no heating at all, all those people will have to find refuge either in the western part of the country or inside the European Union.

With that, I would like to thank you for your attention and thank you for coming.

JADWIGA EMILEWICZ: Thank you very much for – thank you – is it working? It’s working. OK. Thank you very much.

If I may, I will use the opportunity to stay because it will be easier for me to present what I prefer. (Moves to podium.) Yes. So we are here.

Thank you very much, first of all, for inviting me here and to be able to discuss the issue of refugees crisis which we have, as it was – as it has been mentioned before, the biggest crisis – refugees crisis since 1939 that we have in Europe. And with the – with the wave and the scope of the people who come, and actually the final result – which has been unpredictable, both by the Polish politicians, by the politicians in the region, but also by the whole world, I think. You can hardly hear that we’ve got any troubles traditionally additive with the refugees. You can – heard no special crimes or some – any statements made by the local societies, as in Poland or in Czech or in Hungary, people complaining about.

Me personally, I must say openly what I have mentioned before. I thought that in Poland we’ve been – the honeymoon between Ukrainian and people will last not longer than one month; whereas we are, after 100 days of war, people are not only coming here – coming to Poland, staying there, and experiencing scope of hospitality that has never been before. As you must know also, that we’ve got quite a tough historical momentum in our relationship before traditionally, and it completely disappeared right now.

But I will – as has been mentioned at the beginning, I would like to present you some datas because I have been invited by the Prime Minister Morawiecki, prime minister of Poland, just day after outbreak of war to the chancellery of prime minister, using my experience – former experience as the minister responsible for the economy, to talk to international financial institutions not only within the European Union but also outside for looking for the support for this special and unique refugees crisis that we are having nowadays in Europe. And what was, of course, very important for us after the huge first wave of newcomers to Poland, you can simply – just to envisage the process, it was in the highest momentum. It was 150,000 people crossing the border per day, comparing with the former period it was not more than 15,000, yeah? So if you can think only about what is happening on the border, not only on the Polish side but also the Ukrainian one, and it was the end of February/beginning of March when the temperature there was below zero Celsius. So it was a real tough, tough momentum.

And so we started to deal, to cope with those people to help them as soon as possible. And the effort that has been paid by the state institutions and local government institutions were fully support by the NGOs and the simply single people. So Poland has become a huge NGOs, actually, in that momentum, so people that has never been experienced or has never been employed or training, anything in the NGOs simply started to do. They, all of them, feel that, yes, we have to do something with that. And people – you can meet people in the railway station, on the border, opening their houses for those people on the scope and – which has never been presented, not only in Poland, I think, but you can hardly see this situation in any other European member state country.

Finally, what has been mentioned a thousand times: We don’t have refugee camps. We’ve got a lot of newcomers, but we have simply any single refugee camp. So all those people has been located, basically, in the private apartment, but also by renting or arranged/organized apartments by the local municipality or the government. So there is no such a situation that we’ve got circles of Ukraine somewhere gathered together. Nothing like that is existing.

But just I would like to bring you some fresh datas, which are really – I must say it was the data – we want simply to have a knowledge-based policy and to have – to do it – to be able to understand who has come to Poland and whom we have on the border, what are their plans, what they want to do, what are their qualifications, how much kids do we have in terms of health-care system and the education system. It was – so this is the survey – the largest survey that has been done after the outbreak of the war made in Europe. It is approximately 8,000 people being questioned, comparing to the one made in Germany it was 2,000 people being asked. This is more than 7,000, approximately 8,000 people asked. We did it together with the – so we, I mean, the chancellery of prime minister, together with the Ukrainian embassy, and with the support of Facebook and Google, so to be able to direct the questions as wide, as broad as it is only possible.

So this is – I know that this is not in very favor of sociologists because it is very difficult to make a proper trial, proper group of people because representation is unknown. So this is very difficult to say whether we’ve got real, full answers. But taking into account, finally, I think it is really interesting and important.

One more thing that should be added to all of those preconditions is that Poland has started to issue the ID numbers for those who come, for the refugees. We started to do it at the end of March, beginning of April, and approximately 60 percent of those who come to Poland has applied for those IDs. But after this ID, we know only about sex and age, nothing more connected with that. The ID is necessary if you – the ID is the enter to – is the door open to all public services – the health-care system, education system. Everything what is necessary and what is open for the Polish citizens, it is opened as well for the Ukrainian. And what you see here - what is probably – it is this mistake in the survey. Those people who answer our questions here, more than 90 percent of them has applied for the ID. So if you compare with this total number what I mentioned, that 70 percent has it, 30 percent not, this is the point, the difference between the group and the people who stay in Poland.

Yes. As I mentioned, the survey has been created and distributed in cooperation with the embassy of Ukraine in Poland and the GovTech is part of the administration. And the promotion channels, as you – as I mentioned, it was Facebook but also the channels of communication used by the Ukrainian in Poland.

So we’ve got 7,505 respondents remaining in Poland. The number of children accompanying, I will say about that a little bit later. And the – all are accompanied by adult. Ninety-six percent of those who answered the questions were women, and this is the real – this shape of the population because, as you know, the young boys and man could not leave Ukraine because of the war reasons. Thirty-nine is the average age of adult respondents of our survey. Eight years and half is the average age of children. So this is also important in terms of the school preparation, but also the openness for entering the labor – the labor market. And top three previous regions of residence in Ukraine is Kyiv – it is not difficult to answer, the capital city; Dnipropetrovsk; and Kharkiv. And top three current localization of respondents in Poland is the Polish capital city, Warsaw; Krakow, the former capital city; and Wroclaw, nearby, traditionally connected. In Wroclaw we’ve got a huge amount of people – Wroclaw has been additive to Poland – added to Poland after the Second World War and allocated strongly by Polish people coming from Lviv before – being Poles from Lviv before the Second World War. So it is also the traditional place when the Ukrainian before the – before outbreak of the current war has been. But anyway, definitely the big cities were the first choice of those who come to Poland.

Structure of population, of refugees residing in Poland. If you see on this left side, you’ve got the age, which is very important. So 48 percent of population is in a productive age. That mean that this is the capital for the labor market as well, right? So 48 percent are under 18 years old. The gender, as I mentioned before, 96 percent woman, only 4 percent men. If you think – it has been said at the beginning before the way – the means of transportation, so 52 percent come to Poland with public buses, mainly arranged by the state, the Polish state; 25 percent by railways, also arranged by the and paid by state; own car, 14 percent – it was at the very beginning, first two weeks, it was those comers – those refugees who come with their own cars; and also the rides offered by private individuals. And the last point is this traveling – how many people are with families that come to Poland. Only 21 percent travel alone. Another 50 percent cross the border with a maximum of two companions, either one old person – grandma/grandpa – and one kid or two kids.

What did – gosh. Yes, thank you.

So just to sum up this – what has been mentioned, we are having nowadays connecting with the dates for the 30 of May, 1.4 million. This is the estimated number of Ukrainian refugees residing in Poland. This is not according to the survey, but according to the knowledge that we have from the border guards, yes? So this is the number of people residing in Poland. Sixty-one percent of them stayed in a temporary accommodation free of charge. I’m mentioning that because there are – we will have some conclusions regarding how to deal with this group of people. Not more than half-million of people, this is the estimated size of the new Ukrainian diaspora – so those people who declared themselves to stay in Poland for longer, yes, so who are not willing to come back to Ukraine. If you think about employment and financial independence, this is one important issue, which is that up to 80 percent of adults have savings for approximately one month, 60 percent for not more than two months. And this amount, also, of people is looking for a new job, which is a good message. They are not waiting for the support, but they are willing to enter to the labor market. And also, 80 percent of them declaring that the lack of language skills is a main barrier to the entering to this – to this market. Although our languages are very similar, still it is not enough to enter fully safely. It is enough to go to the shop. It is enough to go to the – to use some public services. But this is definitely not enough to enter to the labor market, especially if you think about the qualifications of those people, which is also unique comparing with the former/previous refugees crisis.

Mmm hmm. OK. Now that one. Yes.

There are some datas grabbed not from the survey and the questions, but from the – from the – I’m sorry, I’m not doing anything – from SIM cards, so the location of those people. And this is what I – what I said before. They are gathered mostly in the biggest cities – so Warsaw; the south part, it is Krakow; southwest is Wroclaw. Just to see the process is that – oh, no, we are not able, I think. Yeah. Sorry. So we’ve got at the beginning, in the peak momentum, we’ve got 3 million point-seven (3.7 million) people that crossed the Polish border. One-point-seven (million) up until now has come back to Ukraine. And 0.6 (million) has already left for other places outside Ukraine and outside Poland. One-point-four (million), this is this estimated number of people currently residing in Poland.

If I may ask for the next one, if it is possible.

If we think of the accommodation, as I mentioned at the beginning, we don’t have any refugee camp. So more than 60 percent of those who come to Poland resides in unpaid accommodations, 39 (percent) in paid accommodation. Mainly, they stay in the private individuals, so someone who is not connected by as the family or friends, the Ukrainian, because it is worth to be mentioned that before outbreak of war we’ve got 1 million of Ukrainian being on the labor market in Poland, so that came in the last five, six years to Poland looking for the job and staying in Poland, working in Poland. So a lot of those who come after 24th of February simply find the accommodation in this 1 million diaspora already located in Poland. But another – almost 2 million another – first, they stayed in the Polish private apartments. Family/friends, as I mentioned – thank you – family and friends. Also, the public shelter, which is not very significant. Rented apartments, as well. But what is important is the future accommodation because it describe what are the plans of those people, what they really want to do in Poland. Forty-four percent of them are answering that they want to rent a house, rent a flat, rent an accommodation. That means that they want to find a job, and earn money for them, and being able to pay for the – for the accommodation. This is really very, very important. So in the short term, the accommodation refugees plan to stay for about one – up to three months. In the long run, people want to rent the apartments, the accommodations.

So it is just the – maybe might be interested that the accommodation with no charge are broadly mainly presented in the west part of Poland: So Lublin you see, the city – the biggest city close to the eastern border – so close to the Ukrainian and Belarus border. Also, in Warsaw. Further western, more paid apartments. And basically, types of accommodation by city. So the private market, as you see, the yellow one, is the – is the biggest – the biggest share.

And education. Very interesting situation because in the – it is – as we said, there is a lot of kids that come to Poland. And the year the average structure of age is – so that – the average age is a bit above eight years old. So we’ve got a half-million children in the school – broadly school age, because kindergarten is kind of a well-organized daycare system. Primary and secondary school, nursery. And under one years old it is only 6 percent. And what has happened, when they come to Poland it was, of course, a big openness of the schools and people – some of them come to the Polish schools, but it was just in the middle of the term when the education – the distance education has been still organized by the Ukrainian side. And a lot of them decided to finish, to complete the school year in the Ukrainian system. It is very difficult, of course, to enter to the school system just in the middle, and to be classified. And then those people still were thinking, a lot of them, that they will come back soon to the Ukraine. So they decided to do that, and that is why we did – the Polish government decided to offer the laptops and access to the internet for them rather than force them and push them to come to the Polish schools.

And the whole system, the educational system, is now being prepared for the 1st September, when the education – when the school year is starting in Poland, to accept and to be – to be open for those Ukrainian population who want to come to the school. And who is going to come? As you see, more than 50 percent want to come to the – when the school year is started, to send the Ukrainian students to the Polish school system. And this is, of course, the philosophical question regarding the school system, whether – and it was a discussion, and it is still a discussion in Poland with the Ukrainian side whether we should prepare the Ukrainian schools with the Ukrainian system in Poland for the Ukrainian kids, or rather we should support them to enter to the Polish system. Well, my experience as the former member of the government is rather we – we’ve got – Poland has got quite a significant minority in Germany. It is the biggest minority in the – in Germany. We are, I would say, even combating – each government after 1989 is combating for having the, you know, some day public schools in Germany being conducted by the Polish minority for the Polish kids, and we are not allowed to do it in Germany. So our idea was that, yes, we – it is allowed to arrange the Ukrainian school in Poland, and it can be done by the Polish NGOs or by the Ukrainian society or by anyone under the Ukrainian regulation framework. But it is not going to be organized by the – let’s say the government side, yeah? So the government side – I know, lack of time – so the government side is preparing the system to enter those kids to the – to the Polish system.

The savings, important issue. Ninety percent of eligible refugees of working age have sufficient savings for a maximum of two months. Huge challenge for the labor market, not going – if you want, not delivering only fish, but rather opportunities. This is the real challenge that we are having. But what is very promising, 81 percent of those of refugees are looking for the jobs. And the news from today in the morning, 230,000 people – Ukrainian people have already find themselves in the Polish labor market; means being employed officially. I presume that another 200,000 is doing that unofficially. But this is really very significant amount of people in a very short period of time enter the labor market.

What is important for the structure of those refugees? We’ve got, as I mentioned, 1 million Ukrainian people before. The educational structure of those people who are now coming is much higher. We’ve got people with a higher education, skills like the administration, the education. A lot of – a lot of them are lawyers, architects. So completely different structure of refugees that come to Poland. This is being presented on the next slide. And this is also completely different situation that, if we compare it with other refugee crisis in – like in 2014 in Europe or even before. So this is completely different social structure.

Just to make a brief comment and to see those final numbers, 1.4 million come to Poland during last hundred days. Sixty-one percent temporary accommodated for free. A half-million, this is going to be the new Ukrainians living for a longer period in Poland. Not very well-equipped financially. That is why looking for the job and open for that, ready for reskilling. This is also important: They are ready to change their professions. And with the kids ready to come, to enter to the Polish school system.

The huge challenge for the coming months, it is the labor market, of course, and the accommodation. We’ve got a shortage of accommodation even before the refugees crisis. So offering the – preparing the market in the – of course, in the very uncertain period with the huge inflation, changing cost of construction, it is a big – it is one of the biggest challenge that we have to faced with.

But what is the optimistic and out of this survey, that what I mention at the beginning. We don’t have any hesitation, any doubtness (ph) on the – on the Polish society whether we should support or not those Ukrainian. We feel – and the notion that this is also our war is very deeply rooted in Poland, because why? Because we were talking about the Russian as a threat for a very long period. So not only the right-wing parties, but also the left, it is common sense in Poland. So we feel that this battle, this is the first battle when the West and the East world is combating itself, first time not being conducted on the Polish soil. And that is why we are so ready – that’s true; that is really true – and this is why we are so strongly supporting those who come here, and that is why the Polish authorities are so strongly politically supportive for the – for the Ukrainian politicians nowadays and the Ukrainian part in this awful war.

The crisis, the biggest as it was – the refugees crisis, but I would say that dealt in a very unprecedential (ph) way. That might be as an example for the rest. And what I must say, being here, as well, it costs a lot, yeah, so in terms of simply the tough money, yeah? And if we think about support, that would be worth to be spread that this support is necessary not only now, because when the summertime is started the consciousness and the interest of this war and also of those refugees is not going to be that strong as it is now. But we need this support to support those people for a definitely longer period. That is why it would be good in the presence in the places like this one here to once again maintain this attention towards the process that is going on in Central Europe right now. Thank you very much.

MARK VARGHA: Thank you very much, again. Can you hear me? And – yeah.

So maybe we’ll retire from the figures. I will show you photos to refresh you about our field trip to Romania and Moldova in early May, which wasn’t organized by me because I am dealing with the migration in the Mediterranean countries but one of our junior analysts. And I joined because it was so new for me to see a real refugee situation. I’m used to the Greek islands; I’m used to the Italian-French Alpine border, where the movement of irregular migrants from other continents is a daily experience; but not a refugee crisis in a neighboring country. So that’s why I joined my colleagues. And we were – we visited two border crossing points in Romania and one reception center in Moldova.

So the first picture you can see, our first stop which was to get to Marmatiei, which is in the northwestern part of Romania. And you can see the river there – it’s Tisa – and this bridge which can accommodate one vehicle at a time. And the other side is the Ukraine. So you can imagine that in the first days when the war erupted, on a daily basis 2,700 people arrives through this bridge, the majority of them on foot. But it was a very hard situation to handle. This is a small capacity, as you can see.

From the Ukrainian side you can see the Romanian side, and there are my colleagues and interpreter with the officer in charge there. It’s a wooden bridge, and it was built in 1924, so you can imagine that this isn’t a situation you can handle easily. And the guards and the people with bicycles are internally displaced persons in the Ukraine. So they are not refugees in the sense that they haven’t left Ukraine, but if would be still very heavy bombing, they would immediately cross and stay in Romania. So they are staying on this side where we are, of course, in the Ukrainian side, but they go on a daily basis shopping to Romania. Now you can see from Romania the Ukrainian side, so these movements are regular, and when a vehicle comes, everybody should step aside as we step aside when a vehicle came.

Immediately when the war erupted, the NGOs were there and set up these tents for helping. You can see Maida (ph), this woman, is a coordinator of this helping point called Blue Dot. This is the tent of Blue Dot, and these are several NGOs. They are representing – these people are representing several NGOs from Romania. You can see a lot of drawings from other continents, even from the U.S. of course, from children to those children in need.

Basically Romanian authorities expected at this border crossing point 10,000 people a day, but this figure hasn’t been reached since, oh – that’s why I have – I told you that most people were staying on the other side – actually staying on the other side or just coming for shopping, for instance. But those who came, they don’t stay here for long. They went immediately to other European countries; for example, Poland and the Czech Republic where there is a bigger Ukrainian minority. So Romania is still a transit country.

This is the eastern part of Romania, and it is bridge called Sculeni, which is a – it’s a border crossing with Moldova, and this is a so-called helping point. It’s near the main road. You can see on the right maybe a container with the flags, and this is a bus which departed from Moldova and went to Germany, and it was just a stopping point for them to have some refreshment. You see women and children with all their stuff, their pets also, so the bus was full and full of stuff – all the valuables they had it was packed on this bus. There they got come rest and some help, and they continued their journey to Western Europe. Sorry.

The other crossing point we visited, it was in northeastern Romania. It was – it’s called Siret. This is a much larger – as you see, there are six lanes. You see the officers, and behind them there are six lanes. One lane, when the war broke out, was made to focus the traffic to the Ukraine; the other five from Ukraine – two – three lanes, I think, yeah, they were women and children, one lane for students, and one for cars.

So it was quite easy – it’s much – it was much easier to handle the situation here, and they were moving – the people could get into Romania quite quickly. It was very, very cold in the end of February, so they needed immediate help. So for about 200 or 300 meters, now – even now we have these tents. On the right side you have – we have tents for immediate medical assistance, for example. On the other side there are all the volunteers. There are a lot of NGOs there. They are – to this day they have counted 150 NGOs there in Siret, present there, but when we were there in May there were 47 NGOs present, (all of a kind ?).

This is a helping point also at the border. So this is – after a quick registration – you can’t handle – you can’t handle, as one can here – it’s another place on that village nearby – but it’s a quick registration point, and of course, they can have rest and food, and whatever they need immediately from these NGOs, which are doing a really high number.

For example, the Jewish community or you can see Greek Orthodox up here. The churches – these religious communities were the first who were there on the day of the 24th of February, so they were the first civilians to help.

So in Moldova – now we are in the capital in Chișinău. You see this is the MoldExpo, which of course wasn’t designed for helping people. MoldExpo is a(n) exhibition center with great halls, and this is one of them. You see it’s not really proper for this activity, but they turned it to this great helping center so Moldovans were immediately transferred to this exhibition center for hosting refugees. Before it was a COVID helping point, by the way, so who are working there, they are not experts on this refugee issue. They are just dealing with commerce for, like 20 – for 20 years, so they had to change their mindset immediately and focus – and to focus on helping people in need.

Yeah, and you can see one of the places – this little playroom for children. I think they did a great job here, and you can see the store where a lot of donations are placed; mostly blankets and tons of food.

Nowadays the problem is not the lack of capacity because in MoldExpo – and of course they have several reception points in the country; not just in Chișinău – but in MoldExpo they have 430 places. Now it is about 300 people there. Of course the overwhelming majority are women and children whose husband or father is fighting against the Russian army at home.

So there is this kind of fatigue that the Moldovans also were very, very helpful, and donated a really, really huge quantity – blankets and stuff, and clothes. For example, now the biggest issue in MoldExpo is that they don’t have summer clothes because everybody came in winter clothing – in February it was very cold – but it’s getting hotter and hotter, and they don’t have enough of summer clothing.

Of course, here also many, many NGOs are present. For example, this is a SAMU, which is a medical assistance team, and these people came from Spain. They are doctors and other medical staff while helping 24 hours a day while they are staying there. International NGOs, international volunteers, of course, they stay for two weeks or four weeks, while Moldovan and Romanian NGOs were helping, they are permanently there, so that’s a difference.

And my last pic, of course, is the picture of hope. I think everybody here in this room hopes for a better future and peace in the Ukraine. This was made in Siget, our first stop at the border crossing – was with the gendarmerie, the local police, and the tent of Red Cross. After a short rain, you can see the rainbow.

Thank you so much.

NAYLA RUSH: Last but not least – I’ll try to be brief because we want to have food.

So, like Mark said, I’m going to talk about the United States’ response to the Ukrainian crisis briefly. You can go online at and see monthly reports there on the subject.

In the beginning when all this happened, the Biden administration wanted to focus on proximity help, meaning helping refugees in the region, providing financial, humanitarian aid to Ukrainians in Europe, and to the countries that was hosting them. A little bit after that, with some pressure from perhaps refugee advocates, Biden – President Biden, when he went to Brussels, he said, we’re going to bring a hundred thousand to the U.S.

And when we talk about refugees, one main pathway for refugees to the United States is the Refugee Resettlement Program, which is – a refugee leaves the country of war, goes to a country – host country, and then those who cannot stay in the hosting country – for several reasons – are brought to the United States. There’s a specific program with specific budget, specific ceiling – we call it ceiling target on refugees, how many can come.

But that said, not so many Ukraine refugees have been coming to the United States, even after this crisis. In the past decade, around 19,000 Ukrainians have come. This fiscal year, from October through May, only some less than 900 refugees came.

They come mainly through a program called the Lautenberg Program that was set in the 1990s that was supposedly set for people in the Soviet Union – the then-Soviet Union who had religious persecution. So they would come as a group. It was an easier way to apply and come – not an individual process of persecution; they did it just to be part of this group – religious group to be able to be admitted. So these Ukraine refugees – we expect, perhaps, more of them.

Another measure the Biden administration took was to give Ukrainians who were here TPS, which is temporary protective status, which is not the same as the European one – you read about it – but the U.S. has limited benefits linked to that. They just – it means they can stay and they don’t need to go back.

And what it also did on the border is with Title 42 – which is because of COVID – you couldn’t really apply for asylum, and you were able to be returned back from where you were – Mexico and stuff like that. For Ukrainians, they had the exemption. They could come and apply for asylum or come and be given parole, which is kind of a way to say – authorization to enter the country. It’s not an immigration status.

So that’s, in a nutshell, what’s been happening. That exemption – the last exemption supposedly ended on April 25 because what the Biden administration did is create a new program called Uniting for Ukraine. Now it’s supposedly a private sponsorship program. It’s a streamlined process. It’s quicker because it’s kind of all online. What happens is that somebody – a U.S.-based – they call them U.S. based supporter – is in the United States, agrees to bring one beneficiary – a Ukrainian or a non-Ukrainian if it’s a family member of a Ukrainian – who had left Ukraine following this crisis, and vouch, pledge, and apply online for a form – it’s called Declaration of Financial Support. So this U.S.-based supporter will say, I’m going to support financially this Ukrainian for the length of his stay, OK? And then the Ukrainian beneficiary can come under parole. He’s not coming under refugee status.

The U.S.-based supporter – in a nutshell – doesn’t need to be only a U.S. citizen, or green card holder or, you know, U.S. national, American. They can be also asylees, parolees. Those who have deferred enforcement – DED, I forgot what it – anyway, so multiple people, asylees, can apply for this – to bring a Ukrainian here. What they need to do is say, we support the person.

Now, however, this financial support can be – it can come from multiple sources. It doesn’t need to come just from one person. So if I’m supporting a Ukraine beneficiary, I don’t need to have money. Organizations, NGOs, anybody can say, OK, we’re going to add to the support list, and it will be taken into account.

At the same time, also – and I think that’s a bit ironic – a Ukrainian who is coming as a beneficiary can add as a support his home in Ukraine or any asset he has. Anyway, it’s – it’s a process all online. The form is sent, and then after vetting, et cetera, et cetera, the Ukrainian can come. Each form has to be just for one, even if there are multiple families. So if you want to support different people, you have to have another form.

So before they come, if they are approved, they have to have an attestation. It’s not a test; it’s just an attestation that they had a COVID test, polio, et cetera – there’s one, two, three medical attestations that they need vaccine they need to have. So that’s the quick process.

So here’s where it’s – it becomes interesting to me what I found. Parole – when they come under parole, they don’t have access to benefits – federal benefits, money, resettlement, refugee resettlement benefits. However, there’s a new bill that was passed and signed into law by Biden in May that gives Ukrainian parolees the same refugee resettlement benefits as a refugee. So a parolee will come here with the benefits. Supposedly it’s financed privately; however, they will receive also public benefits.

At the same time, if an organization is allowed to sponsor the Ukrainian benefit – indirectly, not directly – one person has to. Indirectly it’s federal money. There are nine organizations – we call them refugee resettlement agencies – who work with the U.S. State Department to help refugees when they come under the Refugee Resettlement Program. They are funded by the U.S. government, by taxpayers’ money.

So these who take money from the U.S. government can list themselves as a supporter financial of the Ukrainian, and then the Ukrainian will be accepted. It’s kind of circling the thing.

Also remember that the parolee now, following this bill, can also get benefits. So a parolee who gets benefits can now sponsor a Ukrainian who will come under a parolee with the same benefits. So it is – it is – we need to be very careful when we look at the fine print, as we say, and understand how this money – where it’s coming from, and perhaps what is portrayed as a private sponsorship is not as private as what we think it is.

Money – we talked about the support. Lots of financial aid has been given to Ukrainian refugees and the countries who are hosting them. The last bill I think – I’m only talking about humanitarian aid for refugees, and food, and et cetera – it’s like six billion (dollars) I think with this new – with this new bill.

So I think I’ve said enough. No? OK. (Laughter.) Honestly, I think I’ve said enough. What is really interesting here is that we are resettling – supposedly resettling Ukrainians or bringing them under parole but giving the refugee resettlement benefits who are not in a country of war, who have gone to Europe, who have been given benefits in Europe – temporary protective status, et cetera. And I’ll end. Mark’s here.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, everyone. We have time for just a couple of questions, but one question I wanted to direct to anybody on the panel, really, but for the Europeans in particular: Does, for instance, the government of Poland or, in your experience, Hungary or Romania – do they want the United States to take more of these people off their hands? In other words, is there any – I don’t know – sense or discussion that they would kind of prefer that more of these people move to the United States?

MS. EMILEWICZ: Well, I would say at the very beginning when we predict what we can expect after – with the refugees crisis, whether it is all going to be three million, or eight (million), or even 11 (million), comparing of the previous refugees crisis, comparing of the other places in the world. If it is 11 (million) or eight million, that definitely would be an – definitely would be the strong diplomatic action in the government to try to find them good shelter outside Poland. But if it is 1.3 (million) – even if it is even double, we try to count how much we can really easily digest, right, in Poland. And the answer was that probably at maximum approximately it is 2.5 (million), 2.7 million.

So I would say nowaday it is not necessary to take them from Poland – definitely not. I would say that they simply feel better in Poland because it is closer to the Ukraine, a closer culture. Everything is easier. So they’ve been there. A lot of friends of them are working here, so if I may say once again, please do help us to help those people in Poland. It is much more efficient simply, and more humanitarian support than any other mean.

MR. VERES: And on the more broader European perspective, now we have almost five million refugees in Europe. If the United States takes a hundred thousand, that’s just a droplet in the sea. I mean, I think that the European Union can handle this refugee crisis. We don’t need the E.U. – the United States to take in refugees. We need LNG and oil. (Laughter.)

MR. KRIKORIAN: OK, good answer. Good answer.

MS. RUSH: But also, Mark –


MS. RUSH: All the – all the funding that’s coming, in the bill and previous bills, Biden and his government to these countries, it’s – do you see the money? Is it effective? Is it –

MS. EMILEWICZ: Well, this is what I tried to say, and that is why I put such a strong pressure. We’ve got a huge, massive amount of NGOs who are supportive, but if you compare the amount of money dedicated to support refugees, then I’d say the NGO sector and the government – of course the government is paying more. And for those money who cannot be covered by any other organization like railways, like shelters, like working like the health-care system. And what is with – during the many of panels or meetings, working meetings with the big international NGOs who are supportive, we said that whether you can change the regulation. And I was told that it must be changed by the regulatory framework in the U.S., that those organizations could support the agencies – the government agencies or local government agencies directly because this is a massive expenditure.

So if you ask me whether we see, we are aware of this float of money coming to NGOs, but we can’t see that – honestly speaking – supportive the government in delivering services to those people.


MR. KRIKORIAN: We have one or two questions. Yes?

Q: As someone who has not – oh – as someone who has not followed the issues in Europe, I just want to say first it’s very impressive, all the things the European countries are doing.

Bur let me ask the harder question. At some point the war will be over, and there’s an old saying: There’s nothing as permanent as a temporary refugee. So in the United States, by the way, our refugees – the official refugees – are assumed to be permanent residents and eventual citizens. That’s different – but that’s a specific category. The term refugee can mean many things, but refugees and asylees in the United States who get that status are on their way to permanent residence.

But in your countries, has anyone given any thought of how to encourage people to go home once the war is over? And how is that going to be dealt with? Experience suggests that’s extraordinarily difficult, particularly for developed countries.

MR. VERES: Well, at the European level, the Temporary Protection Directive can only run for three years. It can be renewed for up to three years. And also, if you look at the data published by Euro – the statistic institute of the EU, we see that the amount of people that actually filed an asylum claim – a regular asylum claim that could give them permanent status is still very, very low. But we are very early in the conflict.

MS. EMILEWICZ: But once again, to compare this situation with the – let’s say another refugees that come to Europe in the former years, it is completely different because when we ask those people why do you don’t apply for ID number, and the answer is – among those Ukraine, it’s because we don’t want to feel like refugee. We don’t want to put this label on us.

They are from – this is not that far away from their cities, their country, and they feel – that is why they declare – we don’t know how many of them – how much of them – how many of them would stay in Poland for a longer period. But they – most massively they declare they want to come back to Ukraine. We don’t know whether it happen or not, of course, because we don’t know how this war is going to look like.

And me personally, I’m very pessimistic about that. But still they don’t feel like being refugees, and that is why they don’t apply also in this asylum procedure – the European asylum procedure.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Is there a last question? Yes, sir. Yeah.

Q: Hi. Do we have data on how much housing prices and rent has gone up in Poland in the past few months?

MS. EMILEWICZ: Uh-huh. Yes, we do have, but this is not that easy, this is not that – because a lot of people are applying for that, and the shortage – there is a shortage on the market. But we’ve got 13 percent of inflation nowadays so this is what we – this is tremendous, yes – 19 (percent) in Estonia, 15 (percent) in Czech Republic, average in eurozone 8 percent. So rapid growth of prices connected with the inflation. And we’ve seen this growth – approximately 13 percent – not because of the Ukrainian applying and the shortage of apartments, but because of the inflation.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, I’m going to have to end it there to respect everybody’s time. Thanks to all of our speakers. This whole presentation will be on our website – the video of it, and I think if we can have the slides, as well –

MS. EMILEWICZ: Yes, sure.

MR. KRIKORIAN: – we would include those for people to be able to look at more carefully at their leisure.

Thanks, everyone, for coming. I think there’s some refreshment in the back since it’s lunchtime, and again, our website, Center for Immigration Studies, is, and let’s thank all the speakers one last time. (Applause.)



Topics: Refugees