Poland: A Year of Emergency Actions for Refugees coming from Ukraine
The large-scale attacks launched by Russia on February 24, 2022 triggered a humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and neighboring countries. By December 2022, there were 4.9 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe, with over 1.5 million registered in Poland, the majority of whom were women and children.
An emergency team deployed for an emergency response
From March 1, 2022, at the start of the war, Première Urgence Internationale deployed an emergency team to the border with Ukraine to assess humanitarian needs and plan a response. Thanks to the rapid deployment of the Emergency team from headquarters, activities began less than 15 days after the start of the conflict. Initially focused on the immediate needs of people in the areas of protection, psychosocial support, and mental health, humanitarian assistance was adapted to reflect the evolving needs of those fleeing their countries.
Première Urgence Internationale then expanded its operations from the border to neighboring cities (Rzeszow, Jaroslaw, etc.) by supporting temporary accommodation centers, as well as in major cities in Poland such as Warsaw and Krakow. In the year 2022, a total of 16,044 people benefited from protection activities, psychosocial support, and mental health services provided in the country.
Many humanitarian workers in Poland themselves displaced
Like Anna, a psychologist at Première Urgence Internationale, many humanitarian workers in Poland themselves were displaced. “I came here the day after the attacks. I started working for the organization in April, first providing emergency psychological assistance, and then conducting long-term group therapies,” she said. “Throughout the year, the nature of my work evolved. Many refugees faced adaptation difficulties and significant stress due to the uncertainty of their future here. Initially, we provided emergency assistance directly at the border to people who didn’t know where to go or where to stay. Later, I started working directly in accommodation centers with people who stayed longer than they thought and had to learn to manage their emotions, especially the children. We conducted group recreational activities, organized cultural outings, and events to help them forget about the daily reality of war.”
Première Urgence Internationale’s intervention was carried out in collaboration with local Polish organizations. Protection activities (refugee information, identification, and referral for protection cases) as well as psychosocial support and mental health services tailored to the refugee population, primarily consisting of children and women, were implemented. To address the evolving situation and the new needs arising from the arrival of winter and cold weather, activities continued mainly in emergency accommodation centers, where the distribution of hot meals was ensured by Première Urgence Internationale and UNITATEM (a local Polish organization).
“We are from Kherson,” explained Olena and her friend. “Once the city was liberated, volunteers managed to help us leave, and we were assisted throughout our journey here. We came with our cat. Since we arrived, we have been supported in our procedures and in our daily lives. For now, we plan to stay, find work, and be useful in return.”
Ensuring the transfer of activities to international and local actors
After one year of mission in Poland, the emergency humanitarian mandate of Première Urgence Internationale concluded, and the mission closed its doors in March 2023. To ensure the transfer of activities to international and local actors, the NGO established partnerships with key stakeholders starting in February 2023 to guarantee the sustainability of the intervention in a context where the network of local associations had already developed.
Our partner foundations have been frontline actors in the humanitarian crisis that occurred in Ukraine in February 2022 and, consequently, in neighboring countries. They wanted to support a project aimed at preventing and mitigating the consequences of forced displacement on the protection and mental health of vulnerable refugees (women, children, and foreigners) fleeing the Ukrainian conflict. They facilitated significant access to psychosocial support and tailored protection services. Première Urgence Internationale teams were able to intervene with people in exile at border crossings in Poland, as well as at specialized reception and transit points and identified collective shelters along the Ukrainian border.