Year of war in Ukraine forced over 8M people to seek refuge in Europe

Fri, 24 Feb 2023 8:08 GMT
Millions of women and children struggle to integrate into new lives across whole of Europe.
Year of war in Ukraine forced over 8M people to seek refuge in Europe

As the war in Ukraine reaches its first anniversary with no end in sight, millions have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in the EU and neighboring countries since the start of the conflict last Feb. 24.

The escalation of the conflict and the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the country's economy forced millions to flee Ukraine and seek shelter, safety, and better living conditions first in neighboring countries and then in the rest of Europe.

The number of refugees from Ukraine across the whole of Europe has surpassed 8 million, according to UN figures this February.

Nearly 5 million Ukrainian refugees have registered for the European Union's temporary protection or similar national protection schemes in Europe.

In March 2022, soon after the war started, the EU activated its temporary protection directive for mass influx to provide immediate and collective protection to displaced persons and reduce pressure on the national asylum systems of EU countries

Rights under the temporary protection scheme include a residence permit, access to the labor market and housing, medical assistance, and access to education for children.

Nearly 5 million people from Ukraine benefit from the temporary protection mechanism.

Most of these people are in the EU countries with good economies such as Poland (1.56 million), Germany (over 1 million), the Czech Republic (nearly 490,000), Italy (170,000), and Spain (167,000), according to

According to Polish authorities, this figure is actually close to 2 million.

About 110,000 Ukrainians live in Romania, another neighboring country. Ukrainians must have a passport with them to enter Romania, while birth certificates are required for those under age 16.

Some 109,000 Ukrainian refugees live in Moldova. While Moldovan authorities require Ukrainians to show a valid identity document when entering their country, they do not require passports.

During his visit to Moldova on Jan. 21, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi thanked Moldovan authorities for their temporary protection program.

While there are 109,000 Ukrainian refugees in Slovakia registered with the UN, almost all of them applied to the EU Temporary Protection Directive or similar national programs.

About 35,000 Ukrainian refugees also live in Hungary.

According to the Russian state news agency TASS, based on Russian security sources, 5.1 million refugees, including 728,000 children, crossed from Ukraine into Russia since February 2022.

According to UN data, as of last October, 2.85 million Ukrainians lived in Russia.

Germany is the country hosting the most Ukrainian refugees in Western Europe, with about 1 million.

Differing views on sanctions

The EU's temporary protection program ensures the right to work, health, education, shelter, and financial support for refugees up to three years.

Most refugees first cross into neighboring Poland before arriving at their final destination. According to the UN, over 9.6 million people have crossed the Polish border.

UN reports show that following Spain – and excluding Russia – the UK, France, Romania, Moldova, Slovakia, Türkiye, and Austria are the top 10 countries Ukrainian refugees have moved to.

In addition to neighboring countries, other European countries also provide many economic and social rights to Ukrainian refugees, while providing some legal conveniences in matters such as residence and work permits.

As of this February, Russia is hosting 2.85 million Ukrainians, while Belarus is hosting over 20,000.

The prolongation of the war had a significant impact on the decision-making processes of many issues in Europe, including disagreements.

Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, and Poland, which are among the European countries that disagreed on the sanctions to be imposed on Russia, expressed different opinions on this issue than other countries.

These countries said that they did not want their own economies to be damaged by sanctions compared to European Union countries with strong economies.

Financial toll

European countries were pushing Russia economically with comprehensive sanctions due to the war, but counter-steps from the Kremlin deepened the energy crisis in Western countries.

The numbers show that the EU has been welcoming Ukrainian refugees and asylum seekers more than those from the Middle East and Afghanistan.

At the beginning of the war, EU countries said that they would support Ukraine under any circumstance.

However, the growing financial burden of the protracted war made people begin to feel a crisis.

The attitude of countries in different areas has shifted.

Especially Russia's restrictions on natural gas and oil sales caused problems for many European countries which have depended on it and led some EU countries to accuse and criticize each other.

The war decimated trade ties between Moscow and Western countries.

Not long ago, during the migrant crises of 2015-2016, violent pushbacks from the Hungarian and Croatian borders were recorded along with wired fences. The crisis escalated to the point that Hungary closed some of its borders with Serbia.

Countries neighboring the EU such as Serbia worked with the EU border agency Frontex.

Western Balkans

The European Commission last December presented a new action plan with the Western Balkans to strengthen cooperation on migration and border management after arrivals along the Western Balkan route tripled compared to 2021.

The action plan has 20 operational measures structured along five pillars.

It sets outs a series of measures to reinforce the EU's support to member states facing increased migratory pressure along the Western Balkan routes.

Serbia, which borders four European Union countries considered to be “parking lot” and transit countries, announced that in 2022 a total of 124,127 migrants passed through its reception centers, most of them from Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Morocco, and India.

Most of these people were pushed back by EU member states to either Serbia or Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Serbian officials have repeatedly underlined that they have and will have a humanitarian attitude towards refugees but the country does not want to be a victim.

Last November, Serbia, Hungary, and Austria signed a memorandum of understanding on strengthening cooperation to curb illegal migration.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said that cooperation with Serbia and Hungary is necessary because the asylum system of the European Union had failed.

So according to the officials, the EU's asylum system only failed to tackle arrivals from the Middle East and Afghanistan.

However, there are challenges faced by Ukrainian refugees in Europe.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), their educational profile, existing social networks, and immediate access to employment facilitating integration allow them to integrate into European societies.

As women and children make up to 90% of the refugees, schooling for children, child care and jobs for caretakers, and emotional and psychological support, especially for children, and missing documents are some of the issues they have faced.

Wide range of services

According to UNICEF, more than 50% of those fleeing Ukraine are children and they may need holistic services that address physical and psychosocial needs.

Countries have organized online resources, videos, webinars, and training to support host country teachers.

The OECD says that to determine the skills that teachers require, it is important to understand the needs of refugee students. Safety, shelter, nutrition, and medical needs have long been recognized as essential needs of refugees.

Reports also show that refugee students are likely in need of emotional support and may also benefit from trauma counseling, but many teachers do not have training in such areas.

Yet Ukrainian authorities consider the situation temporary, with the Education Ministry stressing the need for Ukrainian students to continue their studies in their own language, culture, and history instead of attending schools in host countries.

These students also need assistance to integrate into the host society, as most of the parents are planning to become permanent residents.

Another issue is undoubtedly the financial expenses of hosting Ukrainian migrants.

On Feb. 15 in Geneva, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) launched the Ukraine Humanitarian Response Plan and the Regional Refugee Response Plan for Ukraine aiming to reach, respectively, more than 11 million people and some 18 million people in need in Ukraine.

$1.7B call for refugee response plan

The UN also said that they launched a call for aid worth $1.7 billion this year within the framework of the Regional Refugee Response Plan for Ukraine.

According to officials, Ukraine is one of the biggest refugee crises in the world.

The funds raised will help approximately 4.2 million Ukrainian refugees and communities in their host countries.

Due to the burden, the Polish government plans to charge Ukrainian refugees who stay in shelters for more than 4 months for food and shelter.

According to local media, this measure was approved by the Cabinet.

Under it, Ukrainian citizens staying in Poland longer than 120 days in state-funded accommodation, such as school dormitories and hotel rooms, will have to cover 50 percent of the cost, up to no more than 40 zloty ($8.83) per day. After the completion of 180 days, 75 percent of the cost will be borne by the refugee, not more than 60 zloty ($13.25).

The elderly, disabled people, and pregnant women will not be charged.

The Polish Social Insurance Institution will be informed of each entry and exit date of a citizen of Ukraine, and benefits payments to persons leaving Poland can be suspended.

The new rules are expected to go into effect on March 1. The next approval authority for the decisions taken by the Cabinet will be parliament.

In Ireland, Integration Minister Roderic O'Gorman said the government is struggling to provide shelter to refugees from Ukraine, and when asked whether there is a danger of people sleeping on the street, he said he could not deny it.

Ireland currently hosts more than 58,000 asylum seekers, including 42,000 Ukrainians and 16,000 seeking international protection.

According to Russian President Vladimir Putin's latest remarks, the more long-range weapons the West supplies to Ukraine, the further Russia will have to move the threat away from its borders. If true, this means the war is not going to end anytime soon and the refugee crisis in Europe will continue.

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