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BERLIN — Poland is ready to continue accepting refugees from Ukraine for as long as necessary, its deputy prime minister said, but stressed that the main priority for his country and the rest of the Western alliance should be to help Ukraine to defend itself.
“We have the capacity and we are always ready to accept more refugees,” Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Gliński, who oversees Poland’s efforts to take in Ukrainian refugees, told POLITICO.
Over the past month, Poland has taken in 2.3 million refugees, Gliński said, more than any other European country. The number of arrivals has recently decreased, but Warsaw is preparing for future waves. Echoing Ukrainian concerns, however, Gliński signaled that it was imperative for the West not to confuse humanitarian aid with helping the country fight the Russians.
“It’s a very sensitive issue from Ukraine’s point of view because they are still defending their independence,” Gliński said.
The United States has pledged $2 billion in military aid to Ukraine and the EU has pledged aid totaling €1 billion.
Poland’s size and geographic position on NATO’s eastern flank have made it the logistical and political center of the alliance since the start of the war, the main gateway to safety for those fleeing the conflict as well as the main corridor for Western arms deliveries to Ukraine. Poland’s new status was on full display this weekend when US President Joe Biden visited the country to hold talks with its leaders and deliver a major speech.
The crisis has helped Gliński’s Law and Justice Party, a staunchly conservative political movement that controls the government, divert attention from its long-running disputes with the EU over what Brussels sees as a systemic attack on country’s democratic standards, including subjecting the judiciary to political influence and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.
While these questions remain unresolved, the Ukraine crisis and growing concern over the acute threat Russia poses to European security have inevitably shifted the conversation.
Poland’s willingness to take in so many refugees, something it has refused to do for war refugees from Syria and Afghanistan arriving in Europe, has also impressed many EU capitals.
Gliński attributed the difference in approach to the fact that about 1.5 million Ukrainians already lived and worked in Poland before the war, as well as to the deep cultural ties between neighboring countries.
“There is also a visible change in the Ukrainian approach to our values…they are trying to be more European,” he said. “It is the result of the war.”
In contrast, refugees from predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa are more difficult to integrate, he argued.
“They can be absorbed, but only in a slow evolutionary process,” he said.