On a visit on Tuesday (22 February) to what could become a flashpoint for future tensions over refugees, Ylva Johansson, the EU migration commissioner, said Poland was making adequate preparations for arrivals if there is a wider conflict in neighbouring Ukraine.
Johansson spoke during a trip to Poland amid what appeared to be efforts by the EU to make sure the country and others in the immediate proximity of Ukraine have the operational support they need should there be a refugee emergency.
The migration situation in Poland itself has already proved to be a sensitive issue for Brussels: late last year, Warsaw refused help from the EU agencies dealing with borders and asylum during a flare up with Belarus.
But Johansson tweeted on Tuesday that she had been “assured by Poland’s level of preparedness in relation to the Ukraine situation.”
Poland has the largest number of land crossings with Ukraine of any EU member state. Ukraine also already has over 1.4 million internally displaced people — a legacy of Russia’s past incursions.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Ukraine on Tuesday, however, said they have yet to register any fresh internal displacement of people despite the recent flare up in tensions.
Although she judged Polish preparations to be adequate in the case of an influx from Ukraine, Johansson did demand greater transparency about the situation with Belarus in talks held with deputy interior minister Bartosz Grodecki.
Poland has an on-going state of emergency after the showdown with the leadership in Minsk last year.
And Johansson has in the past made critical remarks about Poland over its decision to ban journalists and humanitarian organisations from approaching the shared land border with Belarus.
So far, the European Commission has been largely silent on the details of its contingency plans to help out Poland, and other neighbouring EU states bordering Ukraine, in the event of a wider war.
What is known is that the commission has been working with EU agencies and member states as part of a so-called Blueprint Network. The commission would also be ready to mobilise emergency financial assistance, if needed.
In addition, the Malta-based EU asylum agency (EUAA) has been working on contingency plans based on different possible scenarios for Ukraine.
Hanne Beirens, the director of the Brussels-based Migration Policy Institute Europe, said the EU asylum agency was likely to play an important role in any forthcoming emergency.
The agency offers specialist knowledge about “scaling up reception capacities” in the event of rapid arrivals of significant numbers of asylum seekers, said Beirens.
“When we’re thinking about solidarity and the capacity of the EU to respond to an asylum or a 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, in an indication of the security-centric approach taken by some EU states towards migration and asylum, Hungary on Tuesday was sending its troops and military equipment to its shared border with Ukraine.
Hungary was “redeploying soldiers and military equipment to the eastern part of Hungary” the country’s defence minister was quoted by the MTI Hungarian news wire as saying.