Poland creates new minister for social integration, focused on Ukrainian refugees

The Polish government has created a new Minister for Social Integration whose role will focus in particular on dealing with issues related to the large number of Ukrainian refugees who have fled to Poland.

The post was given to Agnieszka Ścigaj of the small parliamentary group for Polish Affairs (Polskie Sprawy), who had previously been in the opposition, in a move seen as intended to strengthen the government’s slim majority, but which also prompted the resignation of a member of his caucus.

“I was asked to help the government integrate the refugees,” Ścigaj told Polsat News. “My work will be based on integrating the activities of other ministries. We need to start cooperation between health care, education, municipal housing and administration to help people effectively.

The new minister added that integration is an issue that “must be addressed across Poland’s political divisions”. She also mentioned that non-governmental organizations and local authorities should be involved in the process.

While the Polish government has received international praise for its efforts to help refugees from Ukraine, domestic opposition, local authorities and some NGOs have criticized it for not doing enough to comprehensively address the challenges ahead. are faced with the influx of millions of people.

Poland begins to withdraw special benefits for Ukrainian refugees

Ścigaj entered parliament in 2015 as an MP from the right-wing anti-establishment group Kukiz’15. Last year, several months after leaving Kukiz’15, she co-founded the center-right Polish Affairs with fellow MPs Paweł Szramka and Andrzej Sośnierz.

Some opposition figures criticized Ścigaj for joining the government, saying the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party “bought” support from Polish Affairs. She denies it, saying that “the PiS does not need our three votes to have a majority”.

Indeed, after the announcement of his new role, Szramka left the Polish business group in protest. Ścigaj claims that the PiS is “simply interested in solving the problem” of integration and that she is “happy that the government has finally started to approach the problem in an apolitical way”.

Political scientist Antoni Dudek, however, claims that PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński has allied himself with Polish Affairs to “build a lifeline” in case members of his coalition leave. “Kaczyński is the grand master of securing a parliamentary majority,” Dudek told RMF FM.

Kaczyński himself confirmed this week that he was leaving the government to focus on party business. Yesterday, alongside Ścigaj, two new ministers were appointed: Zbigniew Hoffmann and Wlodzimierz Tomaszewski, who replaced the minister who recently resigned following a dispute with a postman.

Kaczyński quits Polish government to focus on ruling party ahead of election

Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Poland has been the main destination for refugees. It is estimated that up to 1.5 million people are currently in the country, the vast majority being women and children.

The unprecedented influx of refugees – the largest such movement of people since World War II – has created a number of challenges related to housing, labor market integration and education.

The government initially offered various forms of financial assistance to refugees and the Polish families hosting them, but some of this assistance has now been withdrawn. The opposition says the government has left local authorities, NGOs and individuals to shoulder the bulk of the burden.

200,000 Ukrainian refugee children face steep learning curve in Polish schools

Main image credit: Mirek Pruchnicki/Flickr (below DC BY 2.0)

About Michael G. Walter

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