The Creative Initiatives Association “ę” and the Polish Migration Forum have responded to the emerging social challenges related to the refugee crisis of individuals aged 50+. Through the implementation of the “New Relations” program, the organizations have created a space for innovative solutions and profound work with local communities in ten cities in Poland. Based on their experiences, they have produced a research report, which they share with anyone who wants to carry out grassroots integration projects for the Ukrainian community.
Following the escalation of the war in February 2022, approximately twelve million people entered Poland from Ukraine, and around four million received basic humanitarian assistance. About one million six hundred thousand applied for temporary protection. Nearly 5% of these are individuals aged 65 and over, and many women above the age of fifty. How have the Polish local communities and the female and male refugees from Ukraine found their footing in this new shared reality? Two organizations stepped in to assist: The Creative Initiatives Association “ę” and the Polish Migration Forum, which, in collaboration with HelpAge International and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, implemented the grant program “New Relations – Actions for the Inclusion and Intergenerational Integration of People from Ukraine with Refugee Experience”.
The main assumption of the program was to support projects aimed at the social inclusion and adaptation of male and female war refugees from Ukraine in Poland, with particular emphasis on those aged 50+, including individuals with disabilities. Within the framework of the program, 10 projects were implemented in 10 different cities across Poland (from Żywiec, Suwałki, and Świdnica to Warsaw), which supported activities to prevent discrimination, promoted multiculturalism, and were based on respect for autonomy and tolerance.
“The most important, long-term processes related to the social inclusion of refugees occur at the local level. Thanks to the activities carried out in the ‘New Relations’ program in various types of localities and communities, we had the opportunity to observe the dynamics and course of the process under diverse conditions. We also saw a whole range of challenges that this process encountered, and we know that implementing this program was one of the most enlightening experiences in the history of our organization,” says Marta Białek-Graczyk, president of the Creative Initiatives Association “ę”. “We have gathered unique knowledge about what works and what doesn’t in projects integrating and engaging older individuals from Ukraine. This process was accompanied by a study in action – of practices and experiences – and the result is the publication we are now sharing,” she adds.
“More than 18 months after the outbreak of a large-scale war in Ukraine and after receiving 1.6 million refugees, we know that seniors are the group most vulnerable to social exclusion. Their situation is often dramatic due to difficult living conditions and – sadly – overwhelming loneliness. For them, building the titular ‘New Relations’ is essential for social inclusion, but it is also the best method for mental health prevention,” says Karolina Czerwińska, Program Director of the Polish Migration Forum Foundation.
The report is a result of qualitative research conducted in each of the ten projects, based on in-depth interview techniques and focus groups. The study involved nearly a hundred people – female refugees from Ukraine aged 50+, Polish senior citizens, migrants from Ukraine before the escalation of the war in 2022 and/or from other countries, as well as project coordinators, heads of implementing organizations, representatives of public administration and other local NGOs, and individuals representing religious communities. The publication includes, among other things, a characterization of the participants, a description of the social relations that have emerged, and an identification of so-called “nudges,” which are incentives supporting work towards integration at the local level. The summary points to issues for discussion, a list of challenges in the context of further action design, and recommendations for social organizations.
Co-author of the report, Doctor of Sociology, assistant professor at the Institute of Applied Social Sciences of the University of Warsaw, and expert in the Commission for the Elderly at the Office of the Ombudsman for Citizens’ Rights – Magdalena Rosochacka-Gmitrzak emphasizes: “The presented report shows the path and ways of going through various stages of activities for older-adult Ukrainians and older-adult Poles in their new living places. We thank all ten organizations that trusted us in the realization of ‘New Relations’ and enabled mutual acquaintance. We hope that this report will be a lesson for us on how to work together better.”
The topics discussed in the report are also available in the form of three podcasts and video podcasts. The premiere episode “When Older Generations Flee from War” is available on the YouTube channel of the Creative Initiatives Association “ę” (https://bit.ly/NoweRelacjeYTodc1) and on Spotify on the “Międzypokoleniowo” channel. (https://spoti.fi/45AmQ6W).