Warsaw — I am completing a six-day trip (March 3-9) to Poland with a Refugees International (RI) team, in which we have travelled about 600 miles through eastern Poland and visited cities, towns, and villages receiving Ukrainian refugees. Our team also includes RI Europe Advocate Daphne Panayotatos and Special Assistant to the President Irla Atanda. After beginning the trip in Warsaw, we travelled to Przemyśl and the Medyka border crossing, to the Hrebenne border crossing, and to the city of Lublin and the border crossing at Dorohusk.
During this trip, our RI team has met with Ukrainians who have just arrived in Poland, with local officials, and with NGO workers and volunteers from Poland and other parts of Europe. We've also met with UN and U.S. officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski.
Echoing the sentiments of so many Ukrainians, a woman from Zhytomyr (near Kyiv), whom we met at Dorohusk, declared she would not have left her home but for the safety of her children. And her calculation is reasonable: several Ukrainian women (who, along with their children, make up the majority of Ukrainian refugees) shared heart-breaking personal accounts of abuses by Russian troops. These have offered presumptive evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity---consistent with a rapidly accumulating body of information from a wide variety of sources.
In many respects, the response in Poland to this crisis has been encouraging and heartening, with NGOs, individual volunteers, and local officials helping Ukrainians upon arrival and in moving from the border to temporary (and in some cases semi-permanent) accommodation in Poland and elsewhere in Europe. As U.S. Ambassador Brzezinski said to our team, the challenge will be sustaining this impressive effort over time.
While addressing the refugee crisis is a critical imperative, I believe that a far greater challenge will be meeting humanitarian needs within Ukraine. In fact, there are estimates that as many as 7 million Ukrainians may become newly displaced within Ukrainian territory. In addition, civilians who wish to depart Ukraine must be guaranteed safe passage.
At this point, there are several actions that the United States, and other governments, must take to ensure a response that promotes the rights and well-being of Ukrainians at risk:
President Biden should immediately announce that he will authorize, on an emergency basis, the resettlement of 100,000 or more Ukrainian refugees over the next two years.
The UN Secretary General and interested governments---including the government of China---must press Russian President Putin to guarantee Ukrainian civilians' safe passage to countries that will offer genuine protection for those seeking to flee Ukraine.
USAID and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) must accelerate efforts to develop an assistance support infrastructure in Ukraine and prioritize aid through local organizations in Ukraine. Donor governments must commit to sustain generous levels of support that will be necessary.
The United States and other donor countries should direct significant financial support to the governments of refugee-receiving countries bordering Ukraine, and work with national governments to ensure that aid is provided to NGOs and officials working at local levels in each of these countries.
EU Member States must swiftly implement the EU Temporary Protection Directive in an inclusive way to provide safety and support for all those who need protection. European countries can sustain an effective response that benefits Ukrainians and their host communities.
The UN Secretary General, the Secretary of State, and European governments should press Poland and other nations bordering Ukraine to ensure that non-Ukrainian nationals are treated fairly and without discrimination---to include access to safe territories and adequate reception---a concern that our team raised with many of our interlocutors.
The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should intensify the investigation relating to war crimes, crimes against humanity and aggression, which has been supported by a number of governments. The United States should strongly support this effort.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Refugees International's VP for Strategic Outreach Sarah Sheffer at firstname.lastname@example.org.