WARSAW (Reuters) - Ukraine’s ambassador to Poland on Wednesday rejected the Polish prime minister’s claim that her country hosts a million Ukrainian refugees, saying they were not refugees and could at most be called “economic migrants”.
Poland’s ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party has repeatedly said it should not be forced to accept refugees from Syria and North Africa as it already faces a potential influx of refugees from neighbouring Ukraine.
In a European Parliament debate on Tuesday on the rule of law in Poland, prompted by Warsaw’s new legislation on the constitutional court and state media, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo appeared to take this argument a step further.
“You’re talking about migrants - that is a serious issue,” Szydlo said. “Poland has accepted around a million refugees from Ukraine, people whom nobody wanted to help. This should also be discussed.”
Government data, however, shows that despite a jump in the number of Ukrainians trying to settle in Poland since the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine, Poland hosts a mere three Ukrainian refugees and has granted some protections to around 200 more. Another 65,000 Ukrainians hold residency permits in Poland.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Poland, Andriy Deshchytsia, said on Wednesday that while it was possible a million Ukrainians entered Poland in any given year, they were not refugees.
“Taking into account the number of visas in previous years, and the dynamics of the near-border movement, I suspect that over the course of a year there could be up to a million Ukrainians on Polish territory,” Deshchytsia told state agency PAP.
“But they are not refugees. They should be called economic migrants.”
Warsaw’s previous government came in for criticism from the then opposition PiS party when it broke ranks with Hungary and other eastern European nations by agreeing to take in about 7,000 refugees following a European Union directive for up to 120,000 migrants to be relocated across the bloc.
After the party’s election victory, its incoming European affairs minister said the November attacks in Paris that killed 130 people meant there were no “political possibilities” for carrying out the relocation plan.
This month, however, the foreign minister said Poland would stick to the previous government’s plan although it regards it as legally flawed.
Reporting by Wiktor Szary; Editing by Hugh Lawson