USAID’s Samantha Power on Europe’s response to a flood of refugees

The movement of more than a half-million people out of Ukraine and into surrounding countries is creating a dire humanitarian situation. U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power, who was at the Polish border Sunday, joins Nick Schifrin from Brussels to discuss how Europe and the world are responding to the crisis.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for more on the dire humanitarian situation, Nick spoke earlier today with Samantha Power. She's the administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development. That's the U.S. agency tasked with providing disaster relief to other countries. She was on the Polish border yesterday and joined Nick from Brussels.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ambassador, Samantha Power, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    How large is this humanitarian crisis, and how dire are the conditions facing many of these Ukrainians who are trying to flee?

  • Samantha Power, USAID Administrator:

    Well, I think you have seen it firsthand.

    We now have more than half-a-million who've crossed just in a matter of a few days, and the numbers that are trying to cross every day are growing and are likely to continue to grow as now a humanitarian corridor and travel corridor out of the capital has been created.

    So there will be an even greater surge to the border. In terms of conditions, I think the front-line states, those countries bordering Ukraine, including Poland, where I have just come from, are doing everything in their power to position everything from diapers and strollers to hot meals to water to warm blankets.

    But the real challenge is on the Ukrainian side of the border, where people are just backing up.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Even before Ukrainians get to the border, as you were saying before, and as we certainly have seen firsthand, it is incredibly difficult, whether in line right near the Polish border or even finding trains and cars, to leave Kyiv and head to the west or to other borders.

    What more can the U.S. help Ukraine to try and ease some of the crunch of all of these Ukrainians trying to get out of the country?

  • Samantha Power:

    Well, let me just say that we are in very close touch with the Ukrainian government.

    I will say, as we talk to Ukrainian officials, they're often running into and out of bomb shelters as they gather needs from across the country. So, you have — each of the towns have their own very specific needs, but they are trying to centralize the lists of needs and to channel them, again, through the Ukrainian authorities.

    And so that system has been set up. We are getting those lists and we're aiming to respond to those needs. Part of the challenge that we're dealing with is, many humanitarian workers, Ukrainians, are themselves sheltering in place and unable to be as mobile as they would have been a week ago or as they have been now for many years in the east, where the prior acts of Russian aggression occurred.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Poland already has 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees, and the Polish government has been criticized in the past for how it has treated refugees.

    From what you saw, is Poland welcoming Ukrainian refugees?

  • Samantha Power:

    They have basically said, you are welcome here. If you want to apply for refugee status, here's the path to do that, here are the benefits you will receive while you wait to have your asylum claim adjudicated. But, if you don't, if you want to stay here for a little while and then move on to Germany or join up with family somewhere beyond, that's fine too.

    They're scrambling at the highest levels of the Polish government to try to think about how to get more humanitarian assistance into people on the Ukrainian side who are waiting and beyond, of course, a broader, Ukraine-wide humanitarian effort, and they're scrambling to open up more crossing points. And they're mobilizing Polish citizens, who haven't needed much of a nudge to be mobilized.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    We personally witnessed Polish authorities and police welcoming those Ukrainians, but we did see a couple of examples of Africans and Arabs who left Ukraine being surrounded by Polish police.

    We were told that some of those Africans didn't have documents, but have you heard anything or are you worried about any kind of double standard?

  • Samantha Power:

    Well, I think it's absolutely essential that anybody fleeing Ukraine and the violence is treated with dignity and respect and according to their basic human rights.

    And we have seen those reports as well. I will say the Polish authorities that we spoke with, including from the Ministry of the Interior and the border police, are very alert to these allegations and are getting the message out that everybody who's coming is fleeing Russian aggression and violence.

    And we need to find a way either to get them back to their country of origin or, in the case of some of the Afghans who have been living in Ukraine since Kabul fell and since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, you know, we need to find a place in Europe to make sure that they have a safe place to live, so that they're not forced into exile yet again.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And, finally, in the small time I have left, you have, of course, written about European security and Europe's response to humanitarian crises in the past.

    Do you believe, looking at Europe's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, that European security and how it responds to Russian aggression is, frankly, forever changed?

  • Samantha Power:

    Well, in some ways, when you think about the war itself that Putin has waged, you could say, in the worst sense, it has been, for so many in Europe and in Ukraine, the unthinkable becoming not only thinkable, but done.

    But on the other side, if a week ago, you had said that the European Union, for the first time in its history would be providing security assistance at this scale, or any security assistance, people would have said, no, that's unthinkable. And here we see that happen.

    So I think the recognition that there are threats out there and that it is extremely important to invest, in European security, and national security, and in collective security has really hit home. And we're seeing these incredibly important, concrete steps commensurate with that.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ambassador Samantha Power, thank you very much.

  • Samantha Power:

    Thank you.

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