The invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2022 has resulted in a significant displacement crisis, with millions of Ukrainians seeking refuge in neighboring European countries. While these refugees have received initial support and welcome, we know from experience that tensions and challenges may come up in the long term.
A recent series of reports produced by Palladium in partnership with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), explores the factors that could undermine cohesion between Ukrainian refugees and host communities across all stages of the refugee journey in Moldova, Slovakia, Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic.
“Ukrainians are similar culturally to many of the European countries where they’ve sought temporary protection, but that means there’s more of an expectation that they go on with life as normal,” explains Ingrida Kerusauskaite, Team Leader of the project and co-author of the report. “In most cases they’re wearing ‘normal’ clothes, they don’t look poverty stricken, and they’re often expected to start working and contributing to society very quickly. Cultural similarities almost make it more difficult for people to understand the trauma that Ukrainians have gone through.”
In all the countries studied, economic drivers are a key source of potential tensions between host communities and refugees. These tensions are based in real challenges, such as rising costs of living and inflation. But hostile or anti-immigration people or organisations build on economic challenges and spread disinformation that can exacerbate conflict.
The reports, which focus on country-specific measures to encourage cohesion, also cover solutions that are applicable in multiple contexts.
Distribute Resources Equitably and Communicate Effectively
For example, at one point in the Czech Republic, a higher individual payment was available for Ukrainian refugees than citizens.. However, local individuals were also entitled to other benefits that the Ukrainians did not have access to (e.g., unemployment benefits, parental benefits, etc.), and often, the total amount citizens were eligible for was higher.
“Social media and articles were circulating to twist the numbers,” explains Agata Slota, Project Director and co-author of the reports. Also, often the money for the refugees came from the international community, rather than the host government as erroneously assumed by many.
“In the Czech Republic, a large amount of the money the government had set aside to support refugees never ended up getting used, because so many of the refugees were able to find employment instead. This is not something that we saw mentioned much in discourses about refugees,” adds Kerusauskaite.
Share Positive Stories on Social Media
Whether it’s about Ukrainian refugee and host community relationships, support, and solidarity, or Ukrainian refugees’ contributions to the country, the reports stress the importance of positive stories. Social media is one of the primary ways in which misinformation and disinformation is spread about refugees and the war itself. “That’s where misinformation is spread, so it makes sense to also counter the messaging on social media,” explains Slota. “Negative information sticks; it’s what people remember. It has a huge impact.”
The reports recommend that for every one negative message, there needs to be 4-5 positive messages to counter it. It’s a tactic that’s used in campaigns for other issues as well.
“The power of bad events and negative messaging is strong, and you really have to counter these with strong positive examples,” Slota says.
Address Long-standing Operational Challenges
Many challenges faced by host communities and refugees stem from long-standing operational issues in areas such as healthcare and housing. Shortages of healthcare staff, long waiting lists, and unequal regional provision of services were prevalent even before the arrival of Ukrainian refugees. However, the crisis has brought these issues into sharper focus, providing an opportunity to address them.
To mitigate tensions related to operational challenges, the report suggests linking community cohesion efforts with broader operational improvement initiatives, conducting conflict and context analyses, implementing specific programs to improve service access, and addressing issues in healthcare and housing.
By addressing economic concerns, countering political discourses and disinformation, and tackling long-standing operational challenges, stakeholders can work towards creating an environment of understanding, support, and integration. The recommendations provided in the reports serve as a roadmap for organisations and governments to ensure the well-being and harmonious coexistence of Ukrainian refugees and their host communities in the medium term and beyond.
But the work doesn’t end here. Kerusauskaite explains that the project’s next steps will include working with various types of organisations to help countries implement the recommendations made within projects, programs, and operations.
Learn more about the reports and contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.