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Ukraine Refugees more welcomed by European governments

Those who previously supported Middle Eastern refugees say dealing with the Ukraine crisis is far easier with state support.

By Katy Fallon

Published On 16 Mar 2022

Athens, Greece – About three million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s war began, with neighbouring countries opening their borders to refugees.

In Slovakia, leaflets have been handed out to Ukrainians at the border, informing them of their rights in the country.

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On the Polish border, large billboards outside a hall temporarily accommodating people read: “Poland Will Help You!”

There is an abundance of solidarity from civil society and states and as many observers have noted, the welcome is almost unrecognisable compared with similar moments over the past 10 years, when refugees from Middle Eastern, Asian and African countries fleeing conflict have sought shelter in Europe.

And aid workers say that working to solve the Ukraine refugee crisis feels easier now with the support of governments.

“The situation is very different [now],” Marta Górczyńska, a human rights lawyer based in Warsaw, told Al Jazeera, referring to the refugee crisis of late 2021 on the Belarus-Poland border when thousands of people from nations such as Iraq tried to enter Europe.

Working on the Belarusian border, “you had to deal with the hostility from the [Polish] authorities, harassing and intimidating you, telling you that actually it’s not legal to help people who are crossing the border from Belarus to Poland”, said Górczyńska.

“There was a state of emergency introduced and a ban of entry to the border area, which meant that no humanitarian organisations, human rights organisations, or even journalists were allowed to enter,” she said.

“[Now], the Polish authorities [are] welcoming refugees fleeing Ukraine with open arms and providing them with assistance.”

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She noted that NGOs working at the Ukraine border were also active on the Belarus border, but now enjoy a different reception from authorities.

“These are the same people doing the same job, providing assistance to people fleeing their countries because of war, persecution, or violence – and receiving very different treatment from the authorities for doing the same job.

“It’s an amazing outcome of such cooperation [between civil society and governments] and you think it could be the same at the Belarusian border, if only the government allowed us to help.”

Refugee aid workers decry ‘hypocrisy’ of European governments  Al Jazeera English

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