Ukraine: More can still be done to support refugees

Brussels, 3rd March 2022

President Putin’s decision to order a full-blown military attack on Ukraine puts an end to decades of a security architecture established after World War II. While the full-scale of change remains unclear to this day, the ongoing war is currently upending the discussion around migration in Europe 

As of 2 March 2022, more than 1 million Ukrainians had already fled to neighbouring countries and the EU’s Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, Janez Lenarčič, announced that up to 7 million people could be displaced. By comparison, this is seven times more than the number of Syrian refugees who fled during the so-called “2015 refugee crisis”. 

Overall, the EU’s response so far has been overwhelmingly more positive than that offered to populations coming from the Euro-Mediterranean region in the past. On 2 March for instance, the European Commission tabled its proposal to activate the Temporary Protection Directive to rapidly assist people fleeing Ukraine. This is an improvement from the failures of 2011 and 2015 when the EU did not activate it for Libyan and Syrian refugees respectively.  

However, as the EU Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) ministers prepare to meet on 3 March, more can still be done to support refugees from Ukraine. The EU must immediately: 

  • Activate Directive 55/2001 on “minimum standards for giving temporary protection”. Its activation will be discussed as part of the JHA council. The Directive, which has never been invoked since its creation following the war in Yugoslavia, allows for measures to balance the relocation efforts between all Member states. It would allow Ukrainian refugees to benefit from one to three years residence permits within the EU and would guarantee their access to employment, housing, schooling, welfare and medical assistance. 
  • Integrate third-country nationals with short-term residency in Ukraine within the scope of Directive 55/2001. The Directive does indeed include temporary protection to third-country nationals with long-term residency in Ukraine, i.e. refugees, asylum seekers and their families, but does not yet include third-country nationals with short-term residency in Ukraine – such as students. This must be remedied immediately.  
  • The activation of Directive 55/2001 must be accompanied by guidelines to ensure a harmonised reception of Ukrainians and foreigners residing in Ukraine. This should be done in solidarity among Member states while respecting refugees’ existing family ties with people in the EU. 
  • Guarantee entry into Ukraine’s neighbouring countries to all, without discrimination. Several media have reported examples of discrimination upon entry into Ukraine’s neighbouring countries for people based on their skin colour – see in particular the examples of Nigerian, Moroccan and other African citizens. This discrimination must stop. 
  • Provide adequate funding and access to UN agencies and NGOs that are mobilising to deploy or expand their operations in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries. 

The war declared by President Putin on Ukraine is a war against the very values that Europe is built upon. The reaction of the EU and its Member states so far must be commended even though, as was just laid out, much more can still be done for refugees from Ukraine. 

In the meantime, the EU’s response to the tragic situation in Ukraine should not conceal the discrepancy of treatment between the situation of Ukrainian refugees and that faced for years now by millions across the Euro-Mediterranean region. The EU cannot be holding such double standards when it comes to the respect of human rights against violent and oppressing autocrats.