Senate passes special bill on aid to Ukrainian refugees

The bill lays out help to Ukrainian refugees such as providing financial assistance to them and those hosting them, and legalising their stay in Poland. Albert Zawada/PAP

The Senate, the upper house of the Polish parliament, on Friday night unanimously adopted an amended bill on assistance to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.

The bill lays out help to Ukrainian refugees such as providing financial assistance to them and those hosting them, and legalising their stay in Poland.

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 the lives or health of many people" in the event of military conflict in Poland or one of its neighbours as well as Nato countries.

During Friday's debate on the bill in the Senate ahead of the vote, some opposition politicians objected to this amendment and as a consequence the law was rejected in its entirety and sent back to several joint committees by Speaker of the Senate Tomasz Grodzki to be reworked.

On Saturday morning, the Sejm, the lower house, adopted more than a dozen amendments proposed by the upper house, including the one deleting the one that decriminalised any breach of public finance discipline during a war.

With an absolute majority of 229 votes needed to reject this amendment, 228 deputies voted for scrapping it, 227 against, and one abstained.

Now the amended bill goes to the president for signing into law.

Under the bill, Ukrainian refugees will receive the PESEL national identification number.

One of the dozens of amendments voted on by the Senate changed a provision adopted earlier by the lower house, which granted Ukrainian refugees an 18-month residency permit. Under the amended bill they will be allowed an indefinite legal stay in Poland. Pursuant to the Act, after nine months, refugees whose stay has been recognized as legal may apply for a temporary residency permit for a period of three years.

Another Senate amendment also envisages that such a person does not have to come to Poland directly from the territory of Ukraine. Under another amendment, assistance is also to be provided to refugees who came from Ukraine, but who are not citizens of that country nor Polish citizens, but had a permanent residency permit or refugee status in Ukraine. Another amendment provides for assistance to Belarusians who have fled from Ukraine.

Ukrainian refugees 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 national development bank, BGK, will set up 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.

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.