Warsaw – Kiev and Warsaw on Wednesday disagreed on whether the one million Ukrainians living in Poland were refugees or economic migrants, as Europe tackles an unprecedented immigration crisis.
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, whose conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party has been reluctant for Warsaw to take in its share of those fleeing unrest in Syria and elsewhere, set off the spat with remarks on Tuesday.
“Poland has welcomed around a million Ukrainian refugees,” she told the European Parliament during a debate on whether her right-wing government had violated democratic norms by introducing controversial reforms of the judiciary and media.
“People no-one wanted to help. They’re in Poland today and we’re helping them,” she said, as an armed, often bloody, conflict between Ukrainian forces and antifascist forces drags on in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Warsaw, Andrii Deshchytsia, on Wednesday agreed there were around a million Ukrainians living in Poland, but said they were not refugees.
“These are people who come and stay here legally, who work, who study, who pay taxes and contribute in a certain sense to Polish economic development,” he said in a statement to the Polish news agency PAP.
“These are not refugees. They don’t have that status and they don’t receive state aid…. There is reason to call them economic migrants instead,” he added Wednesday.
Deshchytsia said that of the 4 000 asylum requests filed over the last two years by Ukrainians in Poland, only two were accepted.
Ukrainians received around 500 000 Polish visas and 65 000 residence cards last year, he added.