Ukraine War’s Impact on Migrant Flow in Poland: Balancing Humanitarian Concerns and State Stability

Amidst the complexity of traditional and non-traditional security threats resulting from the Russia-Ukraine war, the dynamics of immigrant flows in various European countries have become a crucial issue that needs further examination. The ultimate implication of the military power struggle between these two countries has led to a high intensity of civilian migration as a means of self-preservation. According to UNHCR data (2023), approximately 8,255,288 Ukrainian refugees are dispersed in various European countries, including Poland. Historically, Poland has been one of the European countries reluctant to accept refugee groups.

Poland’s resistance to the influx of refugees can be identified since 2015 as a consequence of the Syrian and Libyan Civil Wars. In the name of civilian security and regional stability, the Polish government firmly rejects these refugees as a precautionary measure. Poland’s constructed policy scheme demonstrates that domestic security stability is a crucial issue that needs to be accommodated first rather than prioritising humanitarian principles. Based on this track record, Poland can refuse the entry of Ukrainian refugees. However, this possibility is not the dominant strategy.

Consciously resisting the high intensity of Ukrainian refugee inflow may disrupt Poland’s image since Poland has frequently imposed blockades on refugee groups in recent years. For example, the consequences of Poland’s blockade of refugee entry in 2015 resulted in the European Union Court of Justice prosecuting Poland for its non-compliance with legal regulations. As a result, there is a possibility of implementing severe sanctions, both formally and socially, by the European Union and even globally against Poland. If similar policies are implemented, the negative impression that has grown and developed against Poland since 2015 will accumulate and affect Poland’s image disruption in the constellation of international relations. Moreover, the European Union has formally applied the Temporary Protection Policy Directive for Ukrainian refugees until March 2024. Consequently, European Union member states are responsible for accepting and treating Ukrainian refugees as their civilians.

Conceptually, Poland’s option to accept Ukrainian refugee groups results from the calculation of loss aversion—an actor’s tendency to minimise losses rather than focus on gains. In other words, although blocking the entry of Ukrainian refugee groups may be an anticipatory approach to the double burden that the Polish government needs to bear, the potential losses from such a blockade would be more painful—possible social and legal formal sanctions by the European Union and even globally. Therefore, the Polish government should choose the latter option among the options of blockade or open acceptance of Ukrainian refugees. However, accepting refugees without anticipating the influx may lead to various negative implications, especially regarding domestic security stability. Hence, the Polish government needs to formulate different strategic policies so that the influx of Ukrainian refugees becomes an opportunity to enhance Poland’s utility.

Poland has at least 1.3 million Ukrainian refugees. In order to accommodate the high intensity of the refugee population, various policies can be implemented. Through the narrative framework of enhancing image and legitimacy, the Polish government can persuade multiple multinational companies to provide financial support to meet the needs of Ukrainian refugees through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. Amid scepticism from various parties that view CSR programs as mere abstract rhetoric, the involvement of multinational companies in Poland becomes an opportunity to improve their reputation and gain public trust. This collaboration scheme has positive significance for the Polish government, global companies, and Ukrainian refugees. Contextually, the burden on the Polish government to accommodate Ukrainian refugees becomes lighter due to financial penetration from multinational companies. At the same time, CSR funding for refugees becomes a strategic instrument to frame a positive image of international companies. Thus, the accessibility of refugee rights can be fulfilled through various aids—avoiding destitution.

Not only limited to providing access to facilities and infrastructure, the Polish government and various companies also need to provide a labour ecosystem for refugees. Conceptually, the narrative attribution of job opportunities for Ukrainian refugees and an intensified persuasive approach can shape the preferences of productive-aged refugees to work. Therefore, the empowerment of Ukrainian refugee groups is crucial.

With such policies, the Polish government can minimise the level of dependency of Ukrainian refugee groups on state aid. It cannot be denied that the Polish government has provided job opportunities to Ukrainian refugees. However, these refugees dominate low-skilled labour jobs. Accumulatively, as much as 56% of Ukrainian refugees are women with higher education backgrounds. This data indicates that the opportunity to amplify the quality of the workforce in Poland is significant, leading to an increase in effectiveness and efficiency in the national economic development scheme. Therefore, empowerment in the form of skill training and cultural adaptation becomes a crucial agenda that needs to be actualised, considering the presence of cultural relativism. Moreover, through relevant institutions, the Polish government needs to map the employment situation of Ukrainian refugees in their home country as a benchmark for the government to provide contextually relevant job opportunities.

Instead of becoming a double burden that could shake domestic stability, offering strategic policies based on humanitarian principles is a momentum for the Polish government to enhance its utility at the international level. These strategic policies form the basis of framing a positive image of Poland regarding the government’s altruism in responding to the implications of the Russia-Ukraine war. Simultaneously, framing such a positive image will discount the negative image of Poland that has grown and developed in recent years due to its resistance to refugee groups from the Middle East. Furthermore, the decision to accept Ukrainian refugees with various strategic policies manifests the practice of tit-for-tat.

Wendi Wiliyanto
Wendi Wiliyanto
Wendi Wiliyanto is a prospective Bachelor's student in International Relations at Universitas Gadjah Mada. He presently holds a part-time position at the Institute of International Studies, Universitas Gadjah Mada, where he serves as a publication staff member. Additionally, he serves as a research assistant at the Institute of International Studies, specializing in "Mundane Circular Economy Policy." His academic interests encompass various subjects, including but not limited to postcolonialism, feminism, environmental issues, and economic development.