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Poland ready to take more Ukrainians, deputy PM says

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BERLIN — Poland is prepared to continue accepting Ukrainian refugees for as long as needed, its deputy prime minister said, but stressed that the main priority for both his country and the rest of the Western alliance should be to help Ukraine defend itself. 

“We have the capacity and we are still ready to accept more refugees,” Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Gliński, who oversees Poland’s efforts to take in Ukrainian refugees, told POLITICO in an interview. 

Over the past month, Poland has taken in 2.3 million refugees, Gliński said, more than any other European country. The number of arrivals has recently fallen off, but Warsaw is preparing for future waves. Echoing Ukrainian concerns, however, Gliński signaled that it was imperative for the West not to conflate humanitarian aid with helping the country battle the Russians. 

“This is a very sensitive problem from the point of view of Ukraine because they are still defending their independence,” Gliński said.

The U.S. has committed to provide $2 billion in military aid to Ukraine and the EU has pledged to extend assistance totaling €1 billion. 

Poland’s size and geographic position on NATO’s eastern flank have made it the alliance’s logistical and political hub since the war started, the main gateway to safety for those fleeing the conflict as well as the primary corridor for Western arms deliveries into Ukraine. Poland’s new status was on full view over the weekend when U.S. President Joe Biden visited the country to confer with its leaders and deliver a major address. 

The crisis has helped Gliński’s Law and Justice party, a staunchly conservative political movement that controls the government, divert attention from its long-running disputes with the EU over what Brussels says is a systemic assault on democratic norms in the country, including by subjecting the judiciary to political influence and discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community. 

While those issues remain unresolved, the Ukraine crisis and growing alarm over the acute threat Russia poses to European security have inevitably shifted the conversation. 

Poland’s willingness to take in so many refugees, something it refused to do for war refugees from Syria and Afghanistan arriving in Europe, has also impressed many EU capitals. 

Gliński attributed the difference in approach to the fact that about 1.5 million Ukrainians were already living and working in Poland before the war, as well as to the deep cultural ties between the neighboring countries. 

“There is also a visible change in the Ukrainian approach to our values … they are trying to be more European,” he said. “This is the result of the war.” 

In contrast, refugees from predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa are harder to integrate, he argued. 

“They can be absorbed, but only in a slow evolutionary process,” he said. 

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