After three months, host cities struggle to find jobs and housing for Ukrainian refugees | world news
By Joanna Plucinska and Michael Kahn
RZESZOW, Poland/PRAGUE (Reuters) – When Ukrainians began crossing the border after Russia invaded their country on February 24, residents of this Polish town – like many others in central Europe – crossed to action to help settle and house refugees fleeing war.
Three months later, Rzeszow’s population of nearly 200,000 has swelled, sometimes as much as 50%, and Mayor Konrad Fijolek predicts the town will need new schools and housing to absorb the refugees who cannot or do not want to return home.
The pressures on his city illustrate the challenges facing central European countries as they turn to providing long-term assistance to refugees, who are mostly women and children.
This includes access to jobs, education and mental health counselling. The new arrivals are increasingly coming from hard-hit eastern Ukraine compared to the first wave of refugees who often had family ties and more means, officials and aid workers say.
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“If we built a few thousand more apartments here they would certainly be occupied, even by those who want to escape here and wait out the war, but probably a large proportion of them will stay here more permanently” , the mayor of Rzeszow told Reuters. .
“There is not a single vacant place. We really need and will try to build more apartments and there is a huge integration process ahead of us.”
His city, which lies on the Wislok River about 100 km (60 miles) from the Ukrainian border, has a well-preserved old town and is home to a number of universities, as well as being a regional tourist and investment center in full growth.
Central European countries like Poland, which had large Ukrainian communities before the war, have been a natural destination for many refugees, putting pressure on some local services and on residents of a region already affected by a sharp increase in the cost of living.
“We understand that Poland is probably going through a difficult time because of this,” said Svetlana Zvgorodniuk, who left the western city of Lviv on February 27 with her daughter and granddaughter. “It is difficult for the state to provide for so many people. We are very grateful to them.”
More than six million Ukrainians have fled their country, escaping a Russian invasion that destroyed cities, killed thousands and created the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since the end of World War II.
“I WILL NOT HUNT THEM”
Much of the burden of absorbing refugees falls on Poland, where 1.1 million Ukrainians have registered for national identification numbers, according to government data. This number includes 519,000 children and means that Ukrainians now make up 7% of children living in Poland.
At Hotel Zacisze, just outside Rzeszow, owner Krzystof Ciszewski said he had paid out of pocket to house refugees at the popular summer wedding venue and was still waiting for a government compensation.
Now he worries about freeing up rooms to honor local reservations made long before the war started.
“We agreed immediately that…we would accept anyone who wanted to stay here indefinitely,” Ciszewski told Reuters at his hotel, where refugees lay on picnic tables outside and could choose from a variety of sausages and cheeses.
“Somehow we have continued to provide for the refugees, but for how long I don’t know. I won’t chase them away.”
Poland’s Minister for the Refugee Crisis, Pawel Szefernaker, acknowledged there were issues he believed needed to be addressed, and said he would monitor the situation in Rzeszow.
He told Reuters the government had so far sent 1.3 billion zlotys ($297 million) to local communities to help cover housing costs for refugees. The government has also formed a team to coordinate efforts to help refugees in areas including education, health, employment and social policy, he said.
Rzeszow Mayor Fijolek said many families have told him they have yet to receive compensation despite hosting refugees for months.
“While numerically there are more refugees in Warsaw or Wroclaw, the magnitude of population growth in Rzeszow is highest.”
COMPLETE MOUNTAINS AND BIG CITIES
From towns like Rzeszow to major cities in the region like Warsaw or the Czech capital Prague, Cyrillic script in public offices and job search ads on social media signal a growing Ukrainian presence in the region.
In the Czech Republic, a summer crisis is looming as mountainous and tourist areas that have taken in large numbers of refugees need space for the holiday season from June, the People in Migration coordinator told Reuters. Need, Jakub Anderle. The Prague-based non-profit group also operates in Ukraine.
“The difficulty is that many of them are concentrated along the borders and areas outside the big cities, such as in the mountain areas where there is not enough social infrastructure, there is no enough schools, there are not enough quality jobs and health care,” he said. Reuters. “That’s the biggest challenge.”
At Resort Eden in the Krkonose mountains straddling the Polish border, manager Jiri Licek said the hotel paid for accommodation, food and a social worker, along with some local donations.
And with nowhere to relocate Ukrainians, many of whom have been living in hotels since the start of the war, Licek is eyeing a lost summer season after a number of Czech school camps canceled bookings due to uncertainty over space.
“I don’t think anyone will give us compensation,” Licek told Reuters. “We finance everything from our own resources.”
(Writing by Michael Kahn; Additional reporting by Anna Koper in Warsaw, Anita Komuves in Budapest and Robert Muller in Prague; Editing by Frances Kerry)
Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.