During a visit on Tuesday (February 22nd) to what could become a flashpoint for future tensions over refugees, Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner for Migration, said Poland was adequately preparing for arrivals in the event of a wider conflict in neighboring Ukraine.
Johansson spoke during a trip to Poland amid what appeared to be EU efforts to ensure the country and others in close proximity to Ukraine have the operational support they have need in case of refugee emergency.
The migration situation in Poland itself has already proven to be a sensitive subject for Brussels: at the end of last year, Warsaw refused help from EU border and asylum agencies during of an outbreak with Belarus.
But Johansson tweeted on Tuesday that she had been “assured by Poland’s level of preparedness for the situation in Ukraine.”
Poland has the highest number of land crossings with Ukraine of all EU member states. Ukraine also already has more than 1.4 million internally displaced people, a legacy of past Russian incursions.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Ukraine, however, said on Tuesday that it had not yet recorded any new internal displacement of people despite the recent spike in tensions.
Although she deemed Polish preparations adequate in the event of an influx from Ukraine, Johansson demanded greater transparency on the situation with Belarus during talks with Deputy Interior Minister Bartosz Grodecki.
Poland has an ongoing state of emergency after the showdown with leaders in Minsk last year.
And Johansson has in the past made critical remarks of Poland over its decision to ban journalists and aid organizations from approaching the land border shared with Belarus.
So far, the European Commission has remained largely silent on the details of its contingency plans to help Poland and other EU neighboring states bordering Ukraine in the event of a wider war.
What is known is that the commission worked with EU agencies and member states in a so-called Blueprint Network. The commission would also be ready to mobilize emergency financial assistance, if necessary.
In addition, the Malta-based EU Asylum Agency (EUAA) has been working on contingency plans based on different possible scenarios for Ukraine.
Hanne Beirens, director of the Brussels-based Migration Policy Institute Europe, said the EU asylum agency would likely play an important role in any upcoming emergency.
The agency offers expert knowledge on “increasing reception capacity” in the event of rapid arrivals of large numbers of asylum seekers, Beirens said.
“When we think about solidarity and the ability of the EU to respond to an asylum or refugee crisis, the EUAA is a pillar,” she said.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR), with offices in Poland, Hungary and Romania, was preparing for “a potential influx”, it said in an emailed statement.
But, a sign of the security approach adopted by some EU states in terms of migration and asylum, Hungary sent its troops and military equipment to its common border with Ukraine on Tuesday.
Hungary is “redeploying soldiers and military equipment to the eastern part of Hungary,” the country’s defense minister was quoted by Hungarian news wire MTI as saying.