Worlds apart: 24 hours with two refugees in Poland

Since the war in Ukraine started on February 24, more than three million Ukrainians have fled across the border to Poland. The Polish state and society mobilised rapidly to ensure that Ukrainian refugees were made to feel welcome.

Ukrainians are entitled to receive an initial 300 zloty ($67) stipend and can register for a national identification number (PESEL) that enables them to access the same healthcare and educational services as Polish nationals. Ukrainians also have the right to work and are provided free housing for at least two months.

But they are not the only refugees in Poland.

In the east of the country, along the roughly 400km (249-mile) long Polish-Belarusian border, asylum seekers, refugees and migrants are trapped in a forested area patrolled by border guards. When they make it out, they are often taken to detention centres or pushed back to Belarus.

Non-Ukrainian refugees and migrants are often vilified by politicians and in Polish state media and barred from receiving help, leaving only a dedicated and secretive network of local activists, who risk up to eight years’ prison time, to provide them with aid.

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