Poland stands with Ukraine – the spirit of Polish solidarity reborn
Ukraine in crisis
This February Europe witnessed an unprecedented and unprovoked military attack by the Russian Federation on Ukraine. In the wake of the unjustified invasion, Poland, who is Ukraine’s next door neighbor, immediately extended a helping hand to a friendly nation in need. Since February 24, Poland opened its borders to over 2 million people fleeing Ukraine from the Russian aggression. Although most refugees are obviously Ukrainian, there are also thousands of third country nationals who found shelter in Poland. Polish authorities let in everyone irrespective of nationality, race or creed. Many of those who crossed the Ukrainian-Polish border were African nationals, including more than 2 thousand Nigerians.
Poland first to help
The government of Poland went to great lengths and undertook every effort to ensure all refugees received meaningful, effective and comprehensive assistance. Meals were distributed at border crossings, transport was provided to receptive points where further assistance and help were provided by local government authorities. Moreover, country legislation was amended to cater for the needs of refugees and facilitate the provision of assistance. All refugees are guaranteed free of charge medical care. Poland accepts and helps terminally ill refugees, the physically challenged and orphans. Ukrainian children are given the opportunity to resume learning in Polish primary and secondary schools. All Ukrainian citizens can apply for a Polish national identity number which entitles the holder to benefit from social welfare and medical care and many other privileges on a par with Polish citizens.
Poles open their hearts and homes to refugees
Interestingly enough, it is not only the Polish government that has provided immense assistance, but also ordinary Polish citizens contributed in a tremendous bottom-up response. Individuals, families, neighborhoods and local communities started helping on their own. They brought food, provided transport from the border to every corner of the country, set up information platforms linking up those in needs with potential providers of accommodation, clothes, medicine, food etc. Accommodation places were created by the government and local governments, but a large number of refugees is hosted in Poles’ private houses. As more and more people arrive the numbers of those willing to help are not decreasing. On the contrary, the assistance given by regular Polish citizens is becoming more effective and structured, sensitive to the changing needs of the refugees. It is worth mentioning that Polish citizens created special assistance platforms dedicated exclusively to assisting African nationals, a large percentage of whom are Nigerians. The support offered includes, for instance, finding accommodation, translation services and free of charge legal assistance for those wishing to remain in Poland.
Humanitarian aid for Ukraine
Apart from helping refugees who crossed the border, Poland is also showing our Ukrainian neighbors solidarity on every level: political, national and human. Poland has become a humanitarian hub coordinating humanitarian assistance flowing via Poland to besieged Ukraine from over 30 countries worldwide. The Polish government has launched a robust and comprehensive system for provision of humanitarian assistance not only in Poland but also in Ukraine. Humanitarian convoys leave Poland for Ukraine on a daily basis transporting medicine, food, clothing and other necessities financed by the Polish government, NGOs and individuals. Poland has contributed 500 000 CHF for humanitarian actions conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross. All assistance sent to Ukraine is coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland and the Office of the Prime Minister. The Polish government remains in contact with Ukrainian partners in order to provide the most effective and needed assistance.
In solidarity with other nations
The spirit of solidarity is not new to Poland and its people. The movement called Solidarity that eventually led to the fall of the iron curtain began in Poland and has shown how united and committed we are as a nation that stands ready to defy oppression and fight for democracy. However, democracy and freedom are never given once and for all – they need to be constantly protected and nurtured. That is why, owing to our historical past, Poland is first to help and stand together with Ukraine at a time of crisis, where democracy, human rights and the values Europe upholds are threatened. Poland is a proud member state of the European Union and it therefore participates in the longstanding and mutually beneficial cooperation between Nigeria and the EU. Nigeria is supported by the EU in many areas and the EU remains the main trading partner of Nigeria. During the pandemic the EU assisted Nigeria with millions of euros of financial help to mitigate adverse economic effects of the Covid-19. The European Union has adopted a seven-year funding scheme for its interventions in Nigeria, following the conclusion of consultations with local authorities and other key stakeholders. The Multiannual Indicative Programme (MIP) for Nigeria 2021-27 focuses on three broad priority areas, namely: (i) Green and Digital Economy (ii) Governance, Peace and Migration (iii) Human Development. Under the Programme, the EU will provide €508 million to fund projects that reinforce its bilateral cooperation with Nigeria for the period 2021-24.
Poland and Nigeria
Although Poland has no strong historical and political ties with Nigeria, as it never colonized any African nation, on a bilateral level, it has maintained friendly diplomatic relations with Nigeria for the past sixty years. Hundreds of Nigerians choose to study in Poland each year on a commercial basis, as well as on scholarships sponsored by the Polish government. It is a two-way friendship – in the past decades numerous Polish doctors, engineers and academics have contributed to the growth of the Nigerian nation and built lasting relationships with their Nigerian counterparts. To this day, Nigerian graduates of Polish universities meet regularly at the Polish Embassy in Abuja and established their own association in order to continue fostering the warm ties between the two countries. For the past ten years the Polish government has supported Nigeria through its development cooperation program “Polish Aid”. The projects focus mainly on: health, education, potable water provision, renewable energy, women and children, and are implemented by the Polish Embassy in Abuja in collaboration with local Nigerian partners. Last year, the Embassy in cooperation with the Nigerian NGO Almajiri Child Rights Initiative (ACRI) completed a development project financed under the Polish Aid program, which is a response to the challenges of the reform of the Almajiri educational system. The new school was officially opened in November 2021. The school is a spacious building with three classrooms and a room for teachers.
As part of the project, toilets for girls and boys were also built, and the school was equipped with its own deep well with an electric pump. The local community was involved in the implementation of the project, lending land for the construction, and the state authorities hired teachers and purchased furniture for the school. The new school will provide safe education for around 150 Almajiri children, who will be able to stay under the care of their families while they receive both Quranic and general education.
6th April 2022
10, River Niger Street