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Calls Grow for Ceasefire in Ukraine as Millions of “Extremely Vulnerable” Refugees Flee to Europe

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Poland continues to be a vital destination for refugees fleeing the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, who risk cold winter temperatures and travel for days to cross the border into safety. Humanitarian aid relief workers are calling for the European Union to put more pressure on Russia to agree to a ceasefire and find a diplomatic solution to end the war. Speaking from Lublin, Poland, Becky Bakr Abdulla of the Norwegian Refugee Council says that as the world focuses its attention on Ukraine and Russia, refugees from countries such Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen are experiencing less hospitable treatment. “Let’s not also forget tens of millions of other refugees and displaced people around the globe that need equal amount of support,” she says.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report, as we go now to Poland, the Polish side of the Ukraine border. We’re joined by Becky Bakr Abdulla. She’s a spokesperson for the Norwegian Refugee Council, joining us from Lublin, Poland, where she’s been speaking to refugees who have crossed into Ukraine. I think the estimates now, Becky, are over 2 million Ukrainians and others have left Ukraine. More than half of them have come into Poland. Describe the situation. Jan Egeland, who we’ve interviewed several times, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said that Ukraine is the fastest-growing displacement crisis he’s witnessed in his 35 years as a humanitarian worker. Becky?

BECKY BAKR ABDULLA: Well, that’s right. Two weeks after the invasion began, there’s now close to 2.5 million people who have fled Ukraine. Where I am now, Poland near the Ukrainian border, they’ve already accepted over — well over 1 million people, and I’ve met with many of them now for the past weeks. And what people are telling me is that, you know, they don’t have a plan. Their plan was to get across to a border to get to safety, and their plan ends there.

These are women and children who have had to leave behind their fathers, boyfriends and husbands. They’ve had to return to continue fighting for their country. And they’re extremely vulnerable. Many of them have spent days on the move. They’ve run out of water, food and medicine inside Ukraine. And by the time we meet them at the borders, they’re basically in need of everything — you know, in need of water, food, shelter, a job, an income. They’re in need of everything. But most of all, what’s really heartbreaking is to see these women break down, start crying, when they say that, you know, “Our loved ones are still trapped inside Ukraine with no way to get out.” So it’s just an immense tragedy, what we’re seeing here in neighboring Poland.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Becky, can you explain how difficult it is for refugees to enter Poland and also what parts of Ukraine most of the refugees are coming from?

BECKY BAKR ABDULLA: Well, at the moment, Polish authorities and government have said that we will continue to keep our borders open. And they’ve done that for two weeks now, which is also why close to 1.4 million people have managed to access and enter Poland and safety here, which is fantastic. But what’s difficult is to get from these bombed-out homes and shelling right outside of your door inside Ukraine to actually flee out and find safety. You know, there’s been numerous cases of humanitarian corridors that have all failed. And really, you know, what people on the move inside Ukraine now need is protection, first and foremost. We’ve heard about civilian targets, civilian facilities being targeted, such as the hospital in Mariupol. This goes against any and all international law. And so our biggest ask now is for the warring parties to protect civilians. They have a right for protection. We, NRC, have a team inside Ukraine. We’ve been there since 2014. And we’re trying our best on both sides of the border to now support Ukrainians in their greatest hour of need, really.

AMY GOODMAN: You have just tweeted, “Europe must ensure an immediate ceasefire.” How, Becky?

BECKY BAKR ABDULLA: It’s not too late to find a diplomatic solution. You know, we’re hearing about these talks that are starting in Turkey. Europe has a huge role to play here. We’re already feeling the consequences of this war. This isn’t only Ukrainians that are now under attack. This is all of Europe. You know, the Polish people I’m talking to here are saying, “We might be next.” This will have a consequence for all of us. So, really, EU, and Europe as a whole, now has a responsibility. First of all, we need to provide these people with collective protection. European countries, including my own country, Norway, need to open up their borders and doors so that we can provide safety and shelter and accommodation to mass influxes of refugees now. But European governments, including U.S. government, has to now really do everything they can to put pressure on Russia, to put pressure on warring parties, and ensure an immediate ceasefire.

Next, they need to ensure humanitarian actors, such as ourselves, inside Ukraine safe access to people in need. You know, from families that I’ve met here at the border, they’re telling us, “For the last few days, we’ve lived in bomb shelters,” or “We’ve recreated our basement to become the place where we are,” with no access to medicine, with no access to food. They’ve run out of gas and water. So, you know, the situation is just absolutely tragic.

And I think now is the time for Europe, including U.S. and other important governments, to come together and find a solution for this. You know, the numbers of people being killed, civilians being killed inside Ukraine, are increasing rapidly every day. Hundreds of thousands of new refugees are crossing borders every single day. The U.N. has estimated that if we can’t find an end to the war, close to 4, 5, 6 million people might be displaced. The numbers are absolutely huge, and no country or neighboring country is able to do this on their own.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And finally, Becky, even given all of the difficulties that refugees are confronting, many have commented on the discrepancy between the treatment of Ukrainian refugees as compared to how Europe and others, other areas, dealt with Syrian refugees or Afghan refugees. Can you respond to that?

BECKY BAKR ABDULLA: That’s absolutely right. I mean, it’s absolutely heartwarming now to see how Poland, other neighboring countries, including the rest of Europe, have opened their hearts and their homes and their pockets to help Ukrainians. It’s important to remember, although all of the world’s eyes now seems to be on Russia and Ukraine, that doesn’t mean that awful situations and the war in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Yemen, in Ethiopia and other places have stopped. So what we’re asking donor nations and governments for now is, yes, please help us now to try to meet the needs of millions of Ukrainians, but let’s not also forget, you know, tens of millions of other refugees and displaced people around the globe that need equal amount of support.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, Becky Bakr Abdulla, spokesperson for the Norwegian Refugee Council, joining us from Lublin, Poland, where she has been speaking to refugees crossing over the border from Ukraine.

When we come back, we go to Moscow to speak with an activist about Russia’s growing antiwar movement and the state crackdown. Stay with us.

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