Should Poland Build Refugee Camps?

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The number of Ukrainians who are fleeing to other countries and who will become displaced will only continue to increase as the war wages on and spreads further west. One question that prevails is if other countries from the West will step in and support the influx of refugees fleeing?

According to estimates from the United Nations, around 10 million Ukrainians to date have fled their homes to find safety in neighboring countries or are currently displaced within Ukraine. Of this 10 million, 4 million Ukrainians have chosen to flee to their neighbors such as Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Russia, Slovakia, or Belarus. About half of these 4 million Ukrainian refugees who fled to other countries are reported to be children. Furthermore, an estimated 6.5 million Ukrainians are displaced within their country and are seeking shelter in parts of Ukraine that are not as devasted or war-torn. Of those displaced, it is reported that the majority are coming from the Eastern regions or from Kyiv, with the least amount emerging from Northern Ukraine. Unfortunately, there are still about 12 million Ukrainians who are unable to evacuate their cities or towns and are stranded due to the fighting and danger surrounding them.[1]

The number of Ukrainians who are fleeing to other countries and who will become displaced will only continue to increase as the war wages on and spreads further west. One question that prevails is if other countries from the West will step in and support the influx of refugees fleeing? As of March 31, it is reported by the UN that Poland has sheltered more Ukrainian refugees than any other country in Europe, let alone the world, with an estimated 2,337,000 refugees.[2] So far, due to the hospitality of the Poles, the vast majority of Ukrainians have found shelter in the homes of Polish volunteers. A few thousand have also found shelter in convention centers and stadiums that are known as “reception centers.”[3] These centers are the closest thing Poland has to refugee camps.

Torwar Hall in Warsaw is an example of one of these reception centers and is reported to have already experienced a shortage of meals, money for prescription drugs, and medical supplies.[4] There were also reported concerns about the cleanliness of the catering area as well as the overall health and safety of the facility. One of the volunteer coordinators stated that the whole facility is run by students and volunteers who sometimes can be irresponsible. For example, those who are in the kitchen preparing the meals are reported to be “children with no experience, they do not wear gloves and masks, they do not control the validity and freshness of products, they do not control food shortages, there are no health and safety rules.”[5] There were also concerns regarding the washing areas where hundreds of people use the same showers and sinks. Due to the lack of help cleaning these areas, there have already been reported outbreaks of mycoses. Furthermore, the volunteers have received no additional help monetarily from any other organizations so far. Since volunteers currently largely rely on themselves to get the job done, there are also reports that they have had to use their personal funds to support buying drug prescriptions for the refugees.

Regardless of how these reception centers plan to continue to function, Poland needs a plan to keep up with the increasing demand for money, resources, and volunteers. One possible solution that has been brought up is to start building large-scale refugee camps to house future Ukrainian refugees. However, there is concern about the efficiency of refugee camps and if building them would solve the problem or only exacerbate the issue. Considering the current state of Torwar Hall which is currently functioning like a refugee camp, there lies the question if the conditions inside large-scale refugee camps would be treated any differently. In order to better answer this question, the conditions of refugee camps around the world from the past 30 years should be analyzed.


Moria Camp in Greece – “Worst Refugee Camp on Earth”

 One refugee camp located on the island Lesbos in Greece was declared as the “the worst refugee camp on earth” according to reports from BBC.[6] Refugees arriving to Moria Camp starting in 2015 were majority Afghans (76%), but also Syrians (8%), Somalis (4%), Congolese (3%), Iraqis (2%), and other nationalities (6%) escaping from the war-torn conditions in the Middle East and Africa.[7] The conditions in the camp were designed to only host 3,000 people but it eventually became a shelter for over 13,000 refugees, seven times the operating capacity.[8] At one point the camp even reached 20,000 people.[9] Due to this overcrowding, conditions quickly became unsanitary and even unbearable for some. Many had to build shelters into the outskirts of the camp. Small tents, limited space, uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, overcrowded bathrooms, poor quality food, and limited water all attributed to creating an uneasy atmosphere of chaos in the camp. As a result, it became a common occurrence to witness Afghans and Arabs, or Muslims and Kurds fighting each other every night. The political tensions that these refugees were trying to escape from followed them into the camps.

For some, life in the camp quickly became worse than life at home. Women at this camp especially felt vulnerable. There were no actions taken to separate single women or mothers and their children from unrelated adult males, creating an environment where sexual harassment became common.[10] Furthermore, the women’s showers did not have curtains or hot water and were extremely dirty. Any reports of harassment given to the police were quickly brushed off and ignored. In addition, the danger that some of these children felt caused many to suffer from mental health conditions. It was reported that children as young as 10 years old at Moria camp attempted committing suicide.[11] Having childhood taken away at such an early age can have extreme affects.

The food shortages at Moria camp also created an atmosphere where tensions ran high. The long lines for the camp’s poor-quality food (sometimes expired and rotten) often became a sight where fights broke out. Refugees would fight for their spot in line or out of sheer anger against one another. As a result, people sometimes would not have access to food for days because of the constant fights breaking out in the middle of the queues. One refugee reported that lines for breakfast sometimes started as early as 3 am and people could wait up to three hours to get their meals. The typical meal was something cheap and easy to supply such as rice, cheese, bread, potatoes, or some fruit and vegetables. Meat was rarely served at the camps. The refugee further reported that water was rationed to a 2-liter water bottle per family every 24 hours.[12]

In addition to a lack of food and water, there was a lack of shelter. Those who were lucky received an uncomfortable bunk bed while many others slept on the ground “in small tents or makeshift shelters constructed of blankets, plastic sheeting, and scraps of fencing, cardboard, and other building materials.”[13] Overcrowding caused people to build shelter outside of the premises of the camp into the surrounding olive tree groves. Refugees coined this new area the Moria camp “jungle.” Many of the olive trees in the “jungle” didn’t last long as hundreds of the 100- and 200-year-old olive trees were cut down to provide fire and warmth. The nearby community of a local Greek village expressed their frustration by this ecological and economic damage.[14] Furthermore, the nearby residents became increasingly angry as break-ins and theft by refugees became more common. One resident of this local Greek village stated, “They have destroyed our gardens, the olive trees, they steel cables from installations, woods and whatever they are finding.”[15] It is clear that the effects of the refugee camp overlapped into the lives of the Greek citizens as well. Often the voices of the nearby residents and communities are not voiced or prioritized.

The list of the poor conditions endured in Moria camp continue: the children played in the trash and mud, there was a constant shortage of soap, shampoo, laundry detergent, problems with electricity, freezing cold tents, inadequate health care, and long waiting lines for a doctor, food, toilet, or shower were a norm. On September 8th, 2020, a group of four refugees became so frustrated and angry by the “hellish” conditions they decided the best option was to light the camp on fire. These four Afghan refugees were each sentenced to 10 years in prison for arson. As of today, the official camp is gone, but the refugees still occupy the island in their tents and continue to live under poor conditions.[16] They have created what is now known as “Moria 2.0” and hold on to the hope that they will begin a new life in Europe one day.


Kakuma Refugee Camp – The World’s Largest Refugee Camp

Kakuma camp in Kenya was built in 1992 with the intention of every refugee camp, to be a temporary place of settlement. Unfortunately, thirty years later, the camp has become a permanent settlement for many and houses close to 200,000 refugees and asylum-seekers today.[17] Originally, Kakuma camp was established to shelter the South Sudanese fleeing from civil war. However, because the conditions in the country have not improved, refugees have been forced to stay. After 30 years, the refugee camp has developed into its own city. Sudanese continue to make up majority of the population in the camp, over 100,000 are there today. Somalians are the second largest population in the camp with approximately 55,000 refugees. It also common to meet refugees from other nearby countries such as Congo, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Burundi.[18]

The refugees all arrived with the thought this arrangement would be temporary, now there are second generation and even third generation residents who have lived nearly the majority, if not all, their lives in the camp.[19] One reporter met a refugee at Kakuma who introduced himself as John, a young man in his 20s. When asked what his ethnicity was, he responded with “I don’t know my ethnicity” and proceeded to tell the reporter where in the camp he lived, “Kakuma 1, Zone 3, Block 4.”[20] The young man had been secluded from his country for so long that his identity was now with the camp. It is no surprise that the average time a refugee lives in a camp has grown to over 20 years.[21]

Creating a permanent residence out of a temporary arrangement comes with its challenges. Temporary housing conditions aren’t designed to be the best of quality or sustain varying weather conditions. Typically, the refugees at Kakuma must build their own homes and are unaware of which materials they should use. Most of the camp’s houses are made with mud-brick walls, and roofs “made of corrugated iron, plastic sheeting or so-called makuti thatching woven from coconut palm leaves.”[22] However, walls made of dried mud can collapse during floods, the makuti roof cannot withstand strong winds, and the plastic covering starts to shrink from extreme heat. Furthermore, these poor construction techniques tend to cause mold, flooding, strong odors, and the infestation of rodents which bring diseases and disturbances. It is also common to witness “poisonous spiders, snakes, and scorpions” creeping into the campsites.[23] The refugees cannot block these pests from coming in because they are not in control of what kinds of building materials they receive from the shelter department and never know when they will receive them, some refugees wait months or sometimes years for materials.[24] This is yet another example of how refugees are dependent on NGO’s and humanitarian aid for all aspects of their life.

Water is also a huge problem in the camp, refugees must wake up around 6am in the morning to travel to the water tap about 5 to 10 minutes away walking distance. However, the journey is not without its challenges, host community members will attack or even potentially kill refugees for the water they carry back in their water barrels as well as any belongings they possess. When it comes to food, everything they receive is from humanitarian aid agencies, a typical meal consists of “sorghum, yellow peas and oil.”[25] Often, the rations are very small in amount and food runs out quickly.

Inadequate water supply and poor-quality food increases the risk of a health emergency; however, even if there is a need to bring in an ambulance or police vehicle, the dirt roads leading to the camp have trouble reaching the refugees. Dirt roads also make it much more difficult for supplies and services to be delivered when there are harsh weather conditions such as flooding or strong winds. Pregnant women and those with disabilities who need to go to medical appointments are especially at high risk.

The worst part of it all is even if refugees want to make a change in their lives, they can’t. The refugees at Kakuma “cannot leave without permission from the camp’s governing authority.”[26] Furthermore, due to their refugee status, the people are not entitled to receiving a pay or salary. The work they provide is rewarded in “incentive workers despite certificates and experiences.”[27] As a result, the refugees often feel trapped in their lives, forgotten about, and hopeless. The reality is that most refugee camps do not provide the conditions for people to prosper. Temporary solutions often become permanent ones. It was announced that after 30 years Kakuma Camp will finally close by June 30th of this year; however, the future of these refugees and where they will go remains undetermined.[28]


Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan – The World’s Largest Syrian Refugee Camp

The Za’atari camp located in northern Jordan opened in 2012 and currently hosts 80,000 Syrians who fled from their country’s civil war.[29] The camp is in its tenth year of operation and has turned into its own city with row after row of metal caravans. Za’atari, similar to other refugee camps, has its fair share of poor conditions such as limited water, poor food quality, unreliable electricity, weak housing structures, and the like. Testimonies given by refugees living at the camp claim that one of the biggest issues in the camp is the constant dust and dust storms emerging.[30] Dust and dirt easily builds up in the “homes” of the refugees while children who go out to play end up covered in dust by the end of the day. One child aged 3 was reported to have tears of blood coming out from his eyes due to the constant dust. Not much could be done to clean the dust since water is only delivered every 3-4 days by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR.[31] Furthermore, there are long waiting lines to visit a doctor accompanied by a tedious process to get basic medications. Like many refugees, those in Za ‘atari camp are bound by the schedule and conditions of organizations that provide them with all their necessary supplies and services.

It would be more efficient to provide refugees with opportunity for work, so they could have the money to provide for themselves and the dignity to know they’re not reliant on organizations. However, less than a fifth of the population at Za ‘atari carries a work permit and many men end up having to “work illegally to support their families.”[32] Unfortunately, not permitting refugees to work because of their refugee status is a problem among camps around the world. Job opportunities would help refugees build a sense of purpose and not dread the long days waiting around. In addition, work and pay would keep refugees from stealing from one another. Crimes still runs rampant in Za ‘atari camp because “people are frustrated with their living situation and the limited resources available to them.”[33] If refugee camps are to become efficient in the future, there must be more opportunities for work within the camps. It does not help that organizations such as UNHCR often can be short staffed and overstretched. This proves that even with aid, there are insufficient resources to help the massive number of refugees. Refugee camps can provide the necessary caloric intake, enough water to survive, and a place to sleep, yet still not be enough to fulfill basic needs.

What the refugee camps in Greece, Kenya, and Jordan all have in common is their lack of a proper community and ability to allow people to prosper. This is no doubt a shared feeling among refugee camps and refugee “hot spots” around the world. One refugee residing in a Georgian camp is quoted saying “This isn’t living; it’s just existing.”[34] The truth is, “camps keep refugees alive, but they prevent them from living.”[35] The sole purpose of every day becomes surviving and waiting for better days. People in these camps are not able to lead normal lives as there are usually limited opportunities for work, a lack of schools and teachers for children, and rarely any places of worship. Proper education, work, and faith are critical aspects of each person’s life and when this is taken away or limited it is no surprise that many refugees around the world feel forgotten about and hopeless about their future. Furthermore, camps are usually located far away from cities or towns and are purposely placed in these isolated locations. It is critical for refugees to be a part of a community and feel like they can contribute into their new society. Therefore, the best solution is to have refugees integrate into the host country’s society early on. It is questionable if most refugee camps even provide this possibility.



Considering the following examples throughout the past years, it seems as if the conditions in refugee camps are similar throughout the world. Some would argue that building refugee camps in Poland would likely not result in very different conditions than those previously seen while others claim that things will be better managed in Poland compared to other countries. In the case that refugee camps would be established in Poland, they need to be built with the intention that they will be places of long-term residence. At the current moment, there is no telling how much longer this war will wage on. Furthermore, Poland would also need to seriously take into account the past mistakes of previous camps and correct them accordingly. Otherwise, refugees feel trapped, have problems assimilating into society, and lose hope for a better future. However, developing refugee camps of high quality which provide efficient housing and functional communities would take a long time to develop. Therefore, it would be best for Poland to avoid building poor, large scale refugee camps and instead provide greater monetary aid for the volunteers who open their homes up to refugees. To support this initiative, Poland will need additional funding from organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations.

Poland has been one of Ukraine’s biggest supporters both on a humanitarian level and political level in supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and right to their territory. Poland knows that Ukraine is not fighting only for itself, but for the freedom of the whole of Europe. The Poles also know that most Ukrainians want to return home and will as soon as they are given the chance if their home is still standing. Therefore, many Poles believe in providing Ukrainians with the best conditions possible and not large-scale inefficient refugee camps. Living in a home or an apartment provides a more welcoming feeling and leaves Ukrainians with the impression that the Poles genuinely care about their well-being. The environment that a person is in greatly affects their well-being, mental health, and motivation levels. If one is surrounded in despairing conditions, it is less likely they will have the desire to integrate into their new communities or become a productive member of society. In addition, living among Poles also allows Ukrainians to build their language skills, develop friendly connections, and possibly even professional ties. Ultimately, it is in the hope of Ukrainians and Poles alike that this war will not go on for much longer; however, we must be willing to prepare for the worst. Therefore, providing Ukrainians with welcoming homes allowing for easy assimilation into Polish society is the best current solution.


Works Cited:

Al Jazeera. “Kenya Says Dadaab, Kakuma Refugee Camps to Close next Year.” Refugees News | Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera, November 9, 2021.

Arrive Ministries. “Meeting the People of Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.” Arrive Ministries, 2019.

BBC News. “How Many Ukrainians Have Fled Their Homes and Where Have They Gone?” BBC News. BBC, March 30, 2022.

Boru, Qaabata. “Life in the Kakuma Refugee Camp.” Fair Observer, May 26, 2014.

Boru, Qaabata. “Living Conditions in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp Are Harsh and Dangerous.” D+C, December 18, 2020.

Davis, Susan. “Life in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya.” AGC Refugee Sponsorship Initiative – Home, August 10, 2019.

Donadio, Rachel. “Welcome to Europe. Now Go Home.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, November 15, 2019.

Dunn, Elizabeth Cullen. “The Failure of Refugee Camps.” Boston Review, September 28, 2015.

Ebrahimi, Soraya. “Depression and Anxiety but Little Change at Greek Migrant Camps a Year after Moria Fire.” The National. The National, September 10, 2021.

Hale, Enrique. “The 7 Largest Refugee Camps in the World.” Refugee Council USA, December 29, 2020.

Hinshaw, Drew. “Polish Cities Struggling to Cope with Refugees.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, March 14, 2022.,who%20have%20entered%20Poland%20sleep.

Human Rights Watch. “Greece: Refugee ‘Hotspots’ Unsafe, Unsanitary.” Human Rights Watch, October 28, 2020.

Konieczek, Martyna. “Uchodźcy Na Torwarze. Wolontariusze Alarmują O Dramatycznej Sytuacji W Punkcie, Wojewoda Zaprzecza. ‘Zarzuty Są Nie Do Końca Prawdziwe.’” Warszawa Nasze Miasto. Warszawa Nasze Miasto, March 10, 2022.

Mercy Corps. “Syrian Refugees Brave Brutal Summer Conditions.” Mercy Corps, January 30, 2020.

Raducha, Magdalena. “‘Powiedziano Nam – Działajcie, Poradzicie Sobie’. Wolontariusze o Pracy W Punkcie Recepcyjnym Na Torwarze.” Torwar i zamieszanie wokół punktu recepcyjnego. Apel wolontariuszy – Wydarzenia w INTERIA.PL. INTERIA.PL, March 9, 2022.,nId,5881943.

Repanas, Antonios. “Two Worlds Confronted in Moria. Jungle vs – Local Community.” HumanStories, February 17, 2020.

Starvaggi, Marc. “Refugee Camps: How a Temporary Approach Is Harmful to Health.” Archive Global. Accessed April 1, 2022.

Team, CATALYST. “10 Miles from Their Past: Za’atari Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan.” CATALYST. CATALYST, January 14, 2022.

Welle, Deutsche. “Lesbos after Moria Fire: ‘People Are Still Living in Tents by the Sea’.” DW.COM, August 9, 2021.,still%20living%20in%20temporary%20accommodations.

‘The Worst Refugee Camp on Earth’, 2018.








[1] BBC News, “How Many Ukrainians Have Fled Their Homes and Where Have They Gone?,” BBC News (BBC, March 30, 2022),

[2] Ibid.

[3] Drew Hinshaw, “Polish Cities Struggling to Cope with Refugees,” The Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones & Company, March 14, 2022),,who%20have%20entered%20Poland%20sleep.

[4] Martyna Konieczek, “Uchodźcy Na Torwarze. Wolontariusze Alarmują O Dramatycznej Sytuacji W Punkcie, Wojewoda Zaprzecza. ‘Zarzuty Są Nie Do Końca Prawdziwe,’” Warszawa Nasze Miasto (Warszawa Nasze Miasto, March 10, 2022),

[5] Magdalena Raducha, “‘Powiedziano Nam – Działajcie, Poradzicie Sobie’. Wolontariusze o Pracy W Punkcie Recepcyjnym Na Torwarze,” Torwar i zamieszanie wokół punktu recepcyjnego. Apel wolontariuszy – Wydarzenia w INTERIA.PL (INTERIA.PL, March 9, 2022),,nId,5881943.

[6] ‘The Worst Refugee Camp on Earth’, 2018,

[7] Antonios Repanas, “Two Worlds Confronted in Moria. Jungle vs – Local Community,” HumanStories, February 17, 2020,

[8] Rachel Donadio, “Welcome to Europe. Now Go Home.,” The Atlantic (Atlantic Media Company, November 15, 2019),


[10] Human Rights Watch, “Greece: Refugee ‘Hotspots’ Unsafe, Unsanitary,” Human Rights Watch, October 28, 2020,

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Antonios Repanas,

[15] Ibid.

[16] Deutsche Welle, “Lesbos after Moria Fire: ‘People Are Still Living in Tents by the Sea’,” DW.COM, August 9, 2021,,still%20living%20in%20temporary%20accommodations.

[17] Enrique Hale, “The 7 Largest Refugee Camps in the World,” Refugee Council USA, December 29, 2020,

[18] Ibid.

[19] Arrive Ministries, “Meeting the People of Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya,” Arrive Ministries, 2019,

[20] Ibid.

[21] Marc Starvaggi, “Refugee Camps: How a Temporary Approach Is Harmful to Health,” Archive Global, accessed April 1, 2022,

[22] Qaabata Boru, “Living Conditions in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp Are Harsh and Dangerous,” D+C, December 18, 2020,

[23] Susan Davis, “Life in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya,” AGC Refugee Sponsorship Initiative – Home, August 10, 2019,

[24] Qaabata Boru, “Living Conditions in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp Are Harsh and Dangerous,”

[25] Ibid.

[26] Qaabata Boru, “Life in the Kakuma Refugee Camp,” Fair Observer, May 26, 2014,

[27] Susan Davis, “Life in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya,”.

[28] Al Jazeera, “Kenya Says Dadaab, Kakuma Refugee Camps to Close next Year,” Refugees News | Al Jazeera (Al Jazeera, November 9, 2021),

[29] CATALYST Team, “10 Miles from Their Past: Za’atari Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan,” CATALYST (CATALYST, January 14, 2022),

[30] Mercy Corps, “Syrian Refugees Brave Brutal Summer Conditions,” Mercy Corps, January 30, 2020,

[31] Ibid.

[32] CATALYST Team, “10 Miles from Their Past: Za’atari Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan,”

[33] CATALYST Team, “10 Miles from Their Past: Za’atari Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan,” CATALYST (CATALYST, January 14, 2022),

[34] Elizabeth Cullen Dunn, “The Failure of Refugee Camps,” Boston Review, September 28, 2015,

[35] Ibid.

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