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The World Urban Forum in the shadow of the war in Ukraine

The 11th World Urban Forum took place last week in Katowice, Poland. Here is a brief summary of one of the hundreds of events that happened there - a panel on the situation of Ukrainian refugees in Poland. It was attended by our delegate to the Forum, Wojtek Krakowiak.

This WUF was a little different. While conflict was always an important topic in urban contexts, it was rarely, if ever, so close to the Forum itself - merely a few hours' drive. It resulted in a poignant contrast between panels and discussions on mobility, greenery, or urban budgeting and those focused on rebuilding ruined cities and urgent humanitarian aid, with many participants being recent refugees themselves.

On one panel, Jan Brzozowski and Konrad Pędziwiatr, researchers from the Cracow University of Economics, and Olena Nahorniuk from the Kyiv National University of Trade and Economics, a refugee herself, presented findings from their crucial, soon-to-be-published, research that sheds a light on the situation of approximately three million Ukrainian refugees in Poland. It tells us who they are, what support they are receiving, and what are their hopes for the future. Because of the recency and dynamism of the crisis, their study is perhaps the first such in-depth look at this critical topic. Below are some of their key points.

  • While the Polish government was slow to act, refugees were supported directly by the regular citizens, who literally opened their homes and gave the refugees a place to stay. The NGOs also played a key role in signposting and coordinating resources.

  • Large and well-integrated Ukrainian communities established before the war are one of the key 'resources' for refugees whose family members or friends often lived in Poland before the war. They provide support and information and ease the transition to a new situation.

  • Fortunately, refugees are not deemed to be particularly vulnerable to labour exploitation and forms of modern slavery. This is because of significant labour shortages in many sectors and flexibility in terms of language requirements (Ukrainian being often sufficient). Thus, many refugees are free to choose between many jobs offers or have already found jobs with decent working conditions.

  • According to researchers, housing remains the key mid- and long-term issue. Even before the war, affordable housing was severely lacking in all major cities, and the situation only worsened since the conflict. If this issue is not addressed appropriately, living standards will decline, and social tensions are likely to arise.

More findings from this research will soon be available on the website the Multiculturalism & Migration Observatory. If you want to read more about WUF, check out our tweeter where I reported live from the conference.

by Wojtek Krakowiak

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