The movement of Ukrainians to Poland is one of the largest in the world today. The lack of differentiation between the terms refugee and migrant is a political gamble to feint the European Union. During the influx of refugees to the EU in 2015 Poland refused to take in people and defended their position by claiming to have granted numerous asylums to Ukrainians fleeing conflict. Even though some Ukrainians have sought asylum in Poland, the majority are migrants. Migrants, unlike refugees who flee persecution and war, are people who move due to economic reasons. By claiming these people are refugees the Polish government uses Ukrainians as an excuse not to take in people from the Middle East or Africa as the EU has demanded several times.
The 2014 crisis in Ukraine forcefully displaced civilians and many left for Poland, leading to a heavy increase in applications for international protection compared to pre-2014 numbers. Ukrainians have been the largest group of foreigners in Poland for a long time but the conflict in south-eastern Ukraine has intensified this trend.
Poland’s booming economy, plunging birth rates and westward migration have created a shortage of labour which is thwarted by Ukrainian workers. The Polish National Bank claims that there are 1.2 million Ukrainian workers who come to Poland every year. Wanting to escape corruption in Ukraine, most of the workers take the low-skilled and low-paying jobs even if they are well educated. Therefore, the lack of migration policies and habit of granting Ukrainians only short term visas wastes the people’s potential (more than a third have university degrees). While the wage remittances help the Ukrainian economy, the emigration of young, skilled workers leads to a brain drain in Ukraine and almost an entire generation living abroad.
Despite having helped Poland become one of the fastest growing economies in the EU, Ukrainians face xenophobic attacks and anti-migrant rhetoric, especially by the Law and Justice Party and nationalist groups.