Language barrier ‘biggest problem’ with refugee schoolchildren

An increasing number of schools around Poland have opened new classes for children displaced by the war in Ukraine, but the language barrier is still the hardest to overcome, experts say.

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The school in Mikołów in southern Poland received three children from Ukraine this week; their knowledge of Polish is limited to “hello” and “good morning”.

The staff already have some experience in this area. Since September, two Ukrainian brothers have been attending the school, who also did not know Polish at all when they started.

One regional school director said that the “children have it the hardest.”

“We manage to communicate somehow with their parents. They are usually accompanied by someone who speaks Polish. Mums try very hard and they really want their children to start learning as soon as possible. But I can see that they are frightened because they do not understand anything. Suddenly they have changed their surroundings and language. I'm sure they didn't want this but they have to deal with it.”

Over two million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded the country, causing what experts have called “one of the worst humanitarian crises since WWII”. Poland has taken in about 1.3 million of those people, who have flooded through eight border crossings.

Thousands of Polish families have opened up their doors to the refugees – mainly women and children – and countless schools and businesses offering classes for children and jobs for adults. Polish hoteliers ‘expect systemic support’ from govt.

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Hundreds of hotels in Poland are providing assistance to refugees escaping Ukraine, but expect the Polish government to take on some of the financial burdens.

“It is difficult to determine for how long hotels will have enough resources to provide free-of-charge assistance to Ukrainian refugees,” Marcin Mączyński from the Chamber of Commerce of the Polish Hotel Industry told the PAP news agency.

He added that the industry expects systemic support in organising accommodation for refugees.

Since the beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, hoteliers immediately rushed to help those fleeing the cruelty of war in Ukraine, the expert said.

“I do not know of a hotel that has not joined the plight of helping Ukrainians … Hoteliers provide their rooms and food free of charge, organise collections of items, equipment, medicines, donate financial support and necessary products. They also help bring to Poland families of Ukrainian workers who find shelter in the facilities.”

He added that the entire industry is itself in a very bad financial condition due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was only at the end of February that the government freed the hotel industry from the limits of rooms that can be available to guests, and the state aid related to supporting the hotel industry ended many months ago.”

Around 1.5 million people who escaped from Ukraine have arrived in Poland, many of whom with nowhere else to go. The hospitality industry is bursting at the seams, with many people reporting that there are no free beds at hotels, hostels, or even makeshift refugee centres in major cities like Warsaw, Kraków, Wrocław and others.