By Mike Anderson
York-Simcoe MP Scot Davidson recently travelled to Poland to witness first-hand the refugee crisis unfolding along its border with Ukraine.
Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion on February 24, more than 3.6 million refugees have left Ukraine, while 6.5 million have been displaced within the country.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. We’re facing a humanitarian crisis,” said Davidson, who flew to Poland with his friend Ali Ehsassi, the Liberal MP for Willowdale.
“Ali is Iranian, and he was a war child himself. He’s been through this, where I have not, but he told me he had never seen anything like this either.”
According to Davidson, it just took a phone call from Ehsassi to convince him to go to Poland.
“Ali was actually down at Pearson International Airport, where the government was loading relief aid,” Davidson said.
“One of the aid workers told him he’d like to get some suitcases on this plane for his family, but there was no room. So Ali told me this story. And he said, Scot, we should go and help. And I said, well, let’s go. He said are you serious? I said, yeah, let’s take them, call the guy.”
On March 11, Davidson and Ehsassi left Toronto bound for Poland with four heavy suitcases sealed with duct tape, they would spend five days near the border.
“We left Toronto for Warsaw, and from Warsaw, we went to Krakow. Then on to a town called Rzeszów, about 40 miles from the Medyka border crossing,” said Davidson, who wanted to clarify that the taxpayer did not pay his travel costs.
“This trip was 100 per cent paid by both of us; no taxpayer money was involved. It’s wasn’t government-sanctioned or anything like that,” he said.
Davidson also said they went together, so they couldn’t be accused of playing politics.
At Rzeszow, Davidson, Ehsassi, and Natalia Kusendova, the PC MPP for Mississauga Centre, met with Mayor Konrad Fijołek, who briefed them about the refugee situation in this town.
“The population of Rzeszow is about 120,000, almost the size of Barrie. But they had about 25,000 refugees in the town. And 1,200 kids they had to find spots for in school. So, I could tell he was overwhelmed with the situation,” he said.
At the border, Davidson was shocked to see the condition of some of the refugees.
“There are no words to describe what I saw. It was heart-wrenching. Some of these people had just the clothes on their back and a shopping bag,” he said.
“One woman told me her apartment building had been bombed, and she didn’t know where her husband was.”
“There were fathers who dropped off their wives and kids, only to turn and go back to fight.”
But the biggest concern for Davidson was seeing how many unaccompanied children were crossing the border.
“Some parents I spoke to were leaving their kids and going back to look after the grandparents who were still in Kyiv,” he said.
“It was very concerning, especially with all the worries over human trafficking.”
Davidson says the Poles ran coach buses non-stop from the border to a big shopping mall about 20 miles away.
“So picture Upper Canada Mall being shuttered, with 12,000 to 15,000 people there. Lying on the floor and cots, awaiting their future,” he said.
Still, Davidson was surprised to see how stoic the Ukrainian refugees were in the face of such hardships.
“The people who are coming across had lost everything. But they were so calm,” he said.
“I spoke to two ladies that came across from Kyiv. It took them five days by train and then a day on the bus. Because of the air raid sirens and the bombings, they said the train would stop, and everyone would have to get out and take shelter wherever they could. And then they would get back on the train and proceed onward. Normally, that trip would take them a day.”
Davidson says seeing the situation first-hand has made him realize that Canada must do more to help.
“I know we have contributed a lot of money through the Canadian Red Cross – the federal government was matching donations dollar for dollar – but quite a few countries have actual people here on the ground to help Ukrainians, like Spain and France,” he said.
“I was on platform four at the Krackow train station, where all the refugees are coming in, and it was a desperate situation there. We should have more of a presence there to help.”
But Davidson admits that many refugees don’t necessarily want to come to Canada; they just want to return to their homes.
“Whether they end up in Poland or somewhere else, many of the people I talked to hope this stops, and they can go back home in a month or two months. But, it’s a fluid situation, and that may change, so the numbers for Canada may increase over time.”
Davidson says his constituency office in Holland Landing will continue to help with immigration questions, and anybody with relatives in Ukraine who require a temporary visa should call (905) 898-1600.
So what happened to the suitcases? They got picked up at the hotel, but not before Davidson and Ehsassi decided to take a peek inside, and what they found surprised them.
“I said, Ali, we should open these and just see what’s in these. Because the guy told him it was humanitarian aid. But when we opened them up, it was first-aid kits, helmets, and flak jackets,” he said.
“It brought home the realization that these people are in a war. They’re in a fight for their lives.”
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