Ukraine’s Neighbors Prepare for Millions of Possible Refugees

  • Ukraine’s neighbors are preparing for a surge of refugees as a possible Russian attack looms.
  • Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, and the Czech Republican have all said they are making preparations.
  • Thousands of Eastern Ukrainians have already evacuated to Russia over fears of war.

Central Europe is bracing for a possible migrant crisis as Ukraine’s Western neighbors makes preparations to welcome millions of refugees in the event of a large-scale Russian invasion into Ukraine.

Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and the Czech Republic have all signaled that they are planning for a surge of incoming Ukrainians as the threat of a Russian attack looms large.

The possibility of an impending refugee crisis intensified Tuesday after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the Moscow-backed separatists’ territorial claims in eastern Ukraine, the self-named “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk. The move reversed Russia’s years-long stance on the region and marked a possible lead-up to a major offensive.

The United Nation’s refugee agency told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that it has not yet seen increasing numbers of fleeing Ukrainians, but called the ongoing situation “highly volatile.” Some estimates suggest as many as five million people could be displaced in a worst-case scenario, the outlet reported.

Video from Eastern Ukraine this week showed thousands of residents in the region evacuating to Russia over fears of impending war.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s neighbors to the West are preparing for multiple scenarios. Central Europe is already home to millions of Ukrainians, many of whom flocked to bordering countries in recent years amid ongoing geopolitical conflict and tough working conditions back home.

Polish officials over the weekend said the country is making plans to accept up to one million refugees who would be housed in hotels, dormitories, and sports facilities, according to The Guardian. Poland is already home to approximately 2 million Ukrainians, the outlet reported.

Earlier this month, Krzysztof Kosiński, the mayor of Ciechanów in north-central Poland, said authorities had asked him for information related to the town’s accommodation facilities for refugees, including the number of people it could house, the costs involved, and the time needed to prepare buildings.

Other countries are also getting ready.

Slovakia’s defense minister, Jaro Nad, told Al Jazeera that the country is preparing for the possibility that “large numbers of refugees will come from Ukraine to our territory.”

Romania’s interior minister, Lucian Bode, said Tuesday that the country is preparing to receive up to 500,000 possible Ukrainian refugees in an “uncontrolled influx.”

“We are currently analyzing how many refugee camps we can install in a relatively short time: 10, 12, 24 hours. We are analyzing existing lodging capacities in border counties but we are also discussing the second stage, with different counties, and the third stage across the country,” he told regional television.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a close Putin-ally, also suggested that hundreds of thousands of refugees could soon materialize in the country.

Czech officials on Tuesday said the country is prepared for both incoming refugees from Ukraine, as well as a possible interruption of energy supplies from Russia.

But regional governments’ prompt responses to a possible Ukrainian refugee crisis have drawn criticism from humanitarian organizations accusing regional political leaders, many of whom have wielded anti-refugee and immigrant sentiment against Middle Eastern and African people in a bid to win political support, of unequal treatment.

Grupa Granica, a Polish network of NGOs in the region told The Guardian that Polish officials’ inequitable response to varying refugee crises is racist.

“For almost half a year the same government has violently pushed back people from many other countries trying to cross through Belarusian border,” the statement said. “It is racist to differentiate people and their access to basic migration procedures based on the country of their origin. Why don’t they have access to the same treatment?”

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