Lower house passes special bill to aid Ukrainian refugees

Łukasz Gągulski/PAP

The Sejm, the lower house of parliament, has passed a bill granting legal residence in Poland for Ukrainian citizens who have fled the war in their country.

The legislation, passed on Wednesday night, enjoyed the overwhelming support of 439 MPs voting in favour and only 12 against, with three abstentions.

Under the new draft law, which still has to be endorsed by the upper house, Ukrainian refugees will receive a Polish personal ID number and an 18-month residence permit.

Ukrainians will be allowed to work in Poland and will have access to the country's healthcare system, while Ukrainian students will be able to continue learning in Polish schools and universities.

Poles who host Ukrainian refugees in their homes will receive a PLN 40 (EUR 8.34) subsidy per day per person for a period of up to 60 days, while refugees will get a one-off payment from the government of PLN 300 (EUR 62.50).

Poland's development bank BGK will create a special fund to finance aid for Ukrainians and the government will create a relevant provision in the state budget.

Additionally, the special law increases penalties for human trafficking and pimping committed during the war in Ukraine.

Despite the cross-party support the opposition harshly criticised an amendment by the ruling party that waives criminal responsibility from public officials who breach financial regulations if they "act with the purpose of protecting lives or health of many people" in the event of military conflict in Poland or one of its neighbours as well as Nato countries.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, attacking its neighbour from three sides with overwhelming military forces. What was likely planned to be a swift military operation aimed to topple the government has turned into a more prolonged conflict, with thousands of casualties on both sides and the number of refugees exceeding two million, most of them heading towards the Polish border.