Inclusion or Exclusion? The Reality for Roma Refugees in Poland

Inclusion or Exclusion? The Reality for Roma Refugees in Poland

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has led to a massive humanitarian crisis, forcing millions of people to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. Among these displaced individuals are the Roma, a discriminated-against ethnic group in both Ukraine and Poland. This article delves into the situation of Ukrainian Roma refugees in Poland, as outlined in the ERGO Network project’s report, “Supporting Ukrainian Roma impacted by war.” The report, prepared for ERGO Network by Elżbieta Mirga-Wójtowicz, Kamila Fiałkowska and Monika Szewczyk, sheds light on Roma refugees’ challenges and highlights the urgent need for comprehensive support and advocacy efforts.

The Scale of the Crisis and Legal Assistance

As of February 2023, nearly 1,563,000 people from Ukraine had sought refuge in Poland, with a significant part being Roma. Despite the staggering numbers, the plight of the Roma within the broader refugee crisis tends to be overlooked. The report suggests that tens of thousands of Roma have crossed the Polish border, and estimates by the European Commission put the figure at least 100,000 Roma fleeing Ukraine. The Roma face a complex set of challenges rooted in historical discrimination and exacerbated by the trauma of being refugees from a war-torn region.

The legal initiatives for Ukrainian refugees at both the European and Polish levels include the activation of the Temporary Protection Directive and the extension of legal stay for Ukrainian citizens in Poland until March 4, 2024, with various assistance measures. However, despite these efforts, the author notes a significant lack of adequate support for Ukrainian Roma refugees in Poland, highlighting systemic discrimination and challenges in accessing assistance due to antigypsyism.

Distinct Challenges of Ukrainian Roma Refugees

The discrimination faced by Ukrainian Roma refugees is profoundly ingrained and multifaceted. In both Ukraine and Poland, they encounter various forms of discrimination, both verbal and non-verbal. This discrimination extends beyond rhetoric, affecting crucial aspects of their lives, such as housing, employment, information access, transportation, and vital support services, including psychological, legal, and educational assistance.

Antigypsyism, or prejudice against Roma, compounds the challenges faced by this group. The report highlights that the Roma tend to form larger groups for security, yet this collective behaviour complicates voluntary efforts to assist them. The trauma of war, coupled with enduring discrimination, creates a paradoxical situation where Ukrainian Roma refugees experience both exclusion and inclusion simultaneously.

Role of Roma Activists and NGOs

In the absence of comprehensive government-led initiatives, the primary efforts to aid Ukrainian Roma refugees are spearheaded by Roma activists and organisations in Poland. While these organisations treat Roma as equals, their capacity is often stretched thin due to the unique challenges faced by the Roma refugees. The burden falls on activists and NGOs to independently provide support and assume responsibility for the well-being of the refugee community.

The report emphasises the necessity of establishing a precise mechanism for financial support for NGOs and activists working with Roma refugees. The support should extend to individual services, such as psychological and legal assistance for activists, recognising the additional pressures on them. At present, Roma activists and organisations, along with local authorities, share a similar attitude towards Roma refugees, creating a need for a more sustainable and collaborative approach.

Official Stance and Color-Blind Policies

While the report does not explicitly detail services being denied to Roma, it highlights an official stance of being ‘colour-blind.’ This approach, while seemingly neutral, inadvertently negates the existence of institutional antigypsyism and discrimination against Roma in Poland. By overlooking the specific challenges faced by Ukrainian Roma refugees, the colour-blind policy exacerbates the situation and impedes the development of targeted solutions.

Advocacy and Awareness

The report stresses the importance of advocacy to raise awareness of the social and economic challenges faced by Ukrainian Roma refugees. With Roma residing in reception centres, the dynamic situation calls for dialogue and cooperation between various stakeholders, including owners, coordinators, staff, volunteers, Roma NGOs, and local authorities. The involvement of the Ombudsman is suggested, and avenues such as meetings, trainings, workshops, and social campaigns are proposed to foster understanding and break down resentment against the Roma community.


The plight of Ukrainian Roma refugees in Poland underscores the need for a nuanced and targeted approach to address the unique challenges faced by this marginalised group. From systemic antigypsyism to the trauma of war, the Ukrainian Roma refugees navigate a complex web of discrimination and exclusion. The role of Roma activists and organisations is crucial, but sustainable solutions require broader collaboration, financial support, and a concerted effort to raise awareness and challenge colour-blind policies.

The recommendations outlined in the report aim to enhance human rights protection for Roma refugees from Ukraine in Poland. They include the development of a comprehensive migration policy, establishing intergovernmental collaborations, addressing discrimination issues at a national level, aligning governmental programs with the specific needs of Roma refugees, and providing support for NGOs and activists. Specific measures include creating monitoring systems, fostering integration through workshops, sensitising stakeholders, prioritising Roma issues within national structures, and initiating transnational advocacy efforts. 

This report was made through the ERGO Network project “Supporting Ukrainian Roma impacted by war”, financed by the European Program for Integration and Migration (EPIM) and the European Commission’s CERV programme.

Inclusion or Exclusion? The Reality for Roma Refugees in Poland – ERGO Network