The Refugees International Investigation:
From March 2 through March 9, 2022, a Refugees International (RI) team traveled to Poland in the wake of the renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine. The team traveled some 600 miles in eastern Poland, visiting border crossings and reception areas in cities hosting people who had fled Ukraine. They met with refugees; members of Polish civil society; and United Nations, U.S. government, and Polish officials.
The Ukraine Crisis:
As a result of the Russian invasion, Ukraine is in a human rights and humanitarian crisis. About 6.48 million people are estimated to be displaced within the borders of Ukraine, and more than 3.3 million people have fled Ukraine, becoming refugees. The vast majority of refugees are women and children, who are at particular risk of trafficking, sexual exploitation, and gender-based violence. More than 2 million of the refugees are in Poland.
The Global Response:
The speed and breadth of the international response to the crisis has been unprecedented and generous, with the European Union, the United States, and other donor governments contributing generously to aid efforts. The EU is providing legal status and protections to people who have sought or are seeking refuge from the war in EU countries. A very welcome development, it stands in sharp contrast to European responses to refugee flight from outside the continent—but should be the norm.
Refugees in Poland (And Elsewhere in the Region):
In Poland and other receiving countries, the UN, EU, and other donors must support governments and civil society to meet refugees' reception and integration needs in the immediate and longer term. These include safe accommodation, medical and mental healthcare, and access to education and employment. An effective response will be grounded in local civil society organizations, investing in their capacity to scale existing services. Swiftly developing government initiatives to responsibly collect and share information about aid efforts within and across borders is necessary to strengthen protections and avoid trafficking, exploitation, and other rights abuses in the region.
Unfortunately, non-Ukrainians—in particular Black and brown individuals—who have fled Ukraine have faced greater obstacles in reception and integration, with problems emerging on both sides of borders. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the EU, and other leaders have publicly urged that everyone fleeing Ukraine be allowed into the EU, regardless of race or nationality.
The Humanitarian Crisis within Ukraine's Borders:
Even as States take on the responsibility of welcoming refugees fleeing Ukraine—a challenge Europe can manage—they must give urgent attention to what is emerging as a far more formidable challenge: the humanitarian emergency within Ukraine. Conflict, and especially the Russian bombardment of civilian institutions and inability of civilians to flee in safety, has created an overwhelming internal crisis, exacerbating an already dire situation. Moreover, several factors suggest that the situation will become even more desperate. In particular, as the Russian military's offensive has become frustrated, it is laying siege to population centers and creating enormous suffering.
War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in Ukraine:
Refugees International is persuaded that the Russian military and the Russian government are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. They must end such abuses and must be held accountable for a broad range of widespread, indiscriminate, and what clearly appear to be cruel, deliberate, and unprovoked attacks against civilians in Ukraine and against civilian institutions.