Officials at an Emirates check-in at Krakow, Poland, refused to allow a Ukrainian mother and her nine-month-old baby onto a plane bound for Sydney (via Frankfurt and Dubai) because the infant did not have a passport.
The refugee, fleeing Russia’s attack on Ukraine, had managed to secure a passport for herself but was not allowed to fly.
Iryna Zaiets was forced to leave her husband and father in Ukraine and head to Sydney where her sister is waiting. The men in Ukraine have remained behind to fight.
Australia is allowing Ukrainian refugees to enter the country, but the two stop-over locations required the child to have a passport. It is a similar story for other refugees attempting to flee.
“If Russia starts bombing and uses nuclear weapons, it will not be limited by border, it will go to Poland, it will go everywhere,” said the frightened mother, who is desperate to get as far away from the conflict as possible with her child.
The Australian government is working with the Ukrainian embassy in Krakow to find a way to issue temporary travel documents to Ms Zaiets and other families that are trying to flee internationally when there is no legislation to allow it.
Up to a million Ukrainian refugees are expected to flow into neighbouring countries such as Poland in the coming days. Most EU countries are accepting refugees without restrictions – except for Belarus, which has joined Russia in attacking Ukraine.
Poland is taking the bulk of refugees, with 50,000 pouring in each day to add to the 377,000 that are already there. After the annexation of Crimea, a million Ukrainians fled the region and settled in Poland. Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia, Romania, and Belarus are all accepting refugees. Once clear of immediate danger, many are moving through into other EU nations to take pressure off border countries. The UK is making plans to accept 200,000 refugees.
The EU commissioner is currently estimating 7 million Ukrainian refugees to emerge from the crisis.
“Even though these are very rough estimates, the figures are huge, and we have to prepare for this kind of emergency which is of historical proportions,” said Janez Lenarcic, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management.
The Morrison government is facing criticism. While he was quick to accept Ukrainian refugees, he left over 45,000 Australian citizens stuck overseas for two years – essentially stateless and unable to return due to pandemic travel restrictions.
Australia’s Covid pandemic is still underway, with cases at their highest point. The difference in response to a highly publicised refugee event and dealing with desperate Australian citizens has left many wondering why their families were left broken and politicians silent.