477 people settled in Western countries thanks to the efforts undertaken in March. The action of hosting refugees from Ukraine in France, Switzerland and Portugal was an initiative of local authorities and humanitarian organizations, as well as people from Poland cooperating with them. The Jesuits for Ukraine team acted only as the intermediary in one stage of this huge undertaking. It consisted in spreading information about the transports among the refugees and in gathering people willing to go to Western countries.
The first group of 42 refugees left for Switzerland in the third week of March. The action was organized by Kirchen Helfen – Prättigau, which took care of transport and reception in Switzerland.
Another initiative came from the Friends of the Saint Omer Foundation for Transatlantic Values, which cooperates with the Honorary Consul of Ukraine in Hauts de France Region. This organization provided accommodation and comprehensive assistance to refugees in three places: Saint Omer, Peynier and in Dunkirk. The refugees were hosted by local communities of residents. They took care of all material needs, including even providing some laptops for the guests. In addition, the guests have been given the opportunity to learn French and the organization is taking care of legalizing their stay and completing all the formalities so that they can receive the special allowance granted by the French state. At the same time, in each of the places where refugees have been received, a cultural institution has been set up – a place where they can meet, have a coffee, talk or organise a cultural event. The Foundation of the Friends of Saint Omer is also committed to reuniting refugee families, and is therefore open to accepting relatives of those under its care. In Poland, the activities of the foundation are coordinated by Ms. Katarzyna Wierzbowska. Thanks to the activities of the foundation, 220 people have already settled in France.
Ms. Elżbieta Caillot Sobańska and Mr. Filip Goldberg are also involved in the action of accepting refugees in France. Working under the aegis of the Malta Volunteers and in cooperation with local authorities in northern France, they have organised transport to Normandy twice. In total, they have so far provided 60 people with accommodation in France.
Meanwhile, JRS Portugal has also organized action of receiving refugees in Portugal. Two buses and nine cars filled with donations arrived in Warsaw from Lisbon on 23rd of March. In cooperation with the Ukrainian Embassy they managed to gather a group of 155 people, who returned with them to Portugal.
Reception campaigns in Western countries require a lot of organisational effort. Firstly, it is necessary to find a place to accommodate refugees and to secure supplies and funds for their living. Then there is the issue of medical and psychological care and of legal assistance. Unfortunately there happened some difficult situations. There is a case, in which a man who went to France is not certain whether he will be permitted to stay there, because although he fled from Ukraine, he was never citizen of this country, but he lived there as an immigrant.
Even when everything has been prepared on the part of the host institutions to receive refugees, the last step, which is to find people willing to leave, is not easy. Many Ukrainians do not want to go further with the idea of starting life anew. Rather, they plan to wait out the war and return to their country as soon as possible. Another difficulty is the weight of the decision to leave – refugees sometimes have to make this important decision to leave within a few hours. All this makes it very important to spread information about the possibility of leaving and to collect people willing to go in advance. These difficulties are probably unavoidable in the very dynamic migration process that has taken place in recent weeks. It is certain that with time appropriate methods of cooperation will be developed to prevent them.
The scale of commitment with which individual local authorities, housing communities and charitable organisations in western countries have joined the process of receiving refugees is impressive. Particularly important is the comprehensive help and support they provide to refugees from the first day they start live in a new country. It also is an extremely important undertaking given the lack of prospects for a quick end to the conflict in Ukraine.