Europe prepares for a wave of Ukrainian refugees

A mass exodus of Ukrainians threatens to overwhelm the resources of neighboring countries even as Europe pledges to help refugees fleeing the Russian invasion.

US intelligence agencies have estimated that between 1 and 5 million Ukrainians could be displaced when Russian forces enter the country from the north, south and east.

It is a move that may well exceed the capacity of Ukraine’s neighbours, some of whom have limited resources given a history of resistance to accepting refugees.

“It is unlikely that these nations could successfully support a wave of millions of refugees without the support of the United States and the wider international community,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Service, told The Hill. of Immigration and Refugees, which resettles refugees. .

Romania said it could accept up to half a million refugees, Hungary said it was preparing for tens of thousands and Moldova pledged to keep its borders open to Ukrainians.

While Poland, a likely destination for refugees west of Ukraine, has pledged to host one million refugees, the country’s own data suggests its refugee accommodation spaces number fewer than 3,000. squares.

“This reality is probably a big driver of the UN’s appeal for $190 million in humanitarian aid for Ukrainians,” Vignarajah said.

Hungary, another western border crossing point for Ukrainians, has been openly hostile to refugees in the past, earning it criticism from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

UNHCR said Friday that at least 50,000 Ukrainians have already fled the country, including through Poland, Romania and Moldova, while around 100,000 have been internally displaced.

Roads in Kiev were flooded on Thursday, with vehicles stretching for tens of kilometers as they sought to flee the capital.

Ukraine has also already faced the aftermath of internal displacement after the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia in 2014.

But Russian troop movements could push people further west and into neighboring countries.

“These are small countries bordering Ukraine, so even if they are ready to welcome Ukrainians, they don’t necessarily have the capacity, and so we will need to see a lot more technical and financial support coming from other EU countries. [European Union] country and I would also say the United States,” said Daphne Panayotatos, Europe Advocate at Refugees International.

So far, the United States has sent a 17-member disaster response team through the United States Agency for International Development to facilitate the Biden administration’s humanitarian response.

US troops currently stationed along NATO’s eastern flank are also helping process evacuees from Ukraine as they cross into Poland and Romania at temporary shelters in those countries.

The Biden administration is also facing calls to offer temporary protected status to Ukrainians already in the United States to avoid deportation and to offer its own refugee program resources.

White House Press Secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiTrudeau announces sanctions against Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Overnight Defense & National Security — Ukraine is at stake On The Money — Inflation held steady in January as omicron raged MORE said on Thursday that the United States was ready to accept refugees from Ukraine, but she said most will want to go to European countries. She said the Biden administration was working with European countries to assess where there was capacity.

“The [State] The department engages diplomatically to ensure neighboring countries keep their borders open to those seeking international protection,” a department spokesperson told The Hill.

“As with any refugee situation, we will continue to call on members of the international community to respond to the needs of those seeking protection within their borders in a manner consistent with their respective obligations under the international law,” the spokesperson added.

So far, the response from many European countries has been welcoming – a contrast to the reaction to past refugee crises, such as that caused by the Syrian civil war.

Just last week, UNHCR issued a warning for the region, noting that several countries have been involved in alarming reports of pushbacks of refugees arriving by boat.

Poland’s most welcome response comes after the country began construction of a wall along its border with Belarus to prevent refugees from crossing.

“Poland’s plan to take in up to 1 million Ukrainians is particularly noteworthy given that just a few months ago its government used troops to push back asylum seekers on its border with Belarus. This disparity in the treatment of predominantly Muslim refugees speaks to the worrying rise of nationalist movements that politicize vulnerable migrant populations,” Vignarajah said.

But a largely white Christian refugee population from Ukraine may be treated differently.

“The rhetoric that we hear around the very likely arrival of tens or hundreds of thousands or even a million or more people from Ukraine, the rhetoric is welcoming and warm,” said Judith Sunderland, associate director of Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia Division.

“It’s a big contrast to the rhetoric we heard a few months ago about Afghans coming or potentially coming,” she added.

Melanie Nezer, senior vice president of global public affairs at HIAS, a Jewish refugee resettlement group with a partner organization in Ukraine, said there are parallels with refugee shifts between the Trump and Biden administrations, where the United States has moved from a weak refugee resettlement goal under the former President TrumpDonald Trump62% of voters say Putin would not have invaded Ukraine if Trump was president to a much larger one put in place by the new administration which President BidenJoe BidenOvernight Defense and National Security – Ukraine is at stake On The Money – Inflation held steady in January as the omicron raged Pics of the Week: Ukraine, Ketanji Brown Jackson and Stallions MORE ultimately failed to meet.

“When the Afghan refugees came, we really had to scramble,” Nezer said, “to make sure the resources were there, the skills, the staff was in place and all those things,” she said. said, adding that the United States had lost some “muscle memory” on the matter.

“These are countries that don’t really have any real established systems for accepting refugees,” she said.

The enormous uncertainty surrounding the scale of the potential refugee crisis, which largely depends on how the invasion plays out, adds to the complexity. On Friday, Russian forces entered Kiev, raising concerns about the fall of the Ukrainian capital, which has a population of around 2.8 million.

Ukraine has also ordered men between the ages of 18 and 60 to stay in the country as it prepares to begin conscription of military reservists.

“It depends, obviously, on the course of the war,” said Angela Stent, an expert on US and European relations with Russia. “You could have a major refugee crisis.”

Sunderland applauded Poland’s decision to welcome Ukrainian refugees as well as foreigners legally residing in Ukraine, but argued the door must be “fully open” to include undocumented migrants in Ukraine.

Panayotatos said Western Europe can also be of greater help, helping with relocation by quickly bringing refugees to other parts of the continent after initial processing to house them while they wait for the next stages of their refugee claims. ‘asylum.

“If a million people travel to Poland next week, Poland does not have the capacity to process a million applications. What would happen instead is 500 people would go to Germany, 500 people would go to France and 300 people would go to Ireland,” she said, using hypothetical figures.

“People could be relocated to another country in the European Union, and that country would assess their asylum claim and say, ‘Yes, we France, not Poland, but we France, think you qualify for the refugee status, and we will give you refugee status to stay here in France,” she added.

Vignarajah said the United States could also set the tone by publicly pledging to take in more refugees.

“As the world leader in humanitarian assistance, the United States should do everything in its power to help its closest allies as it welcomes Ukrainians seeking refuge,” he said. she declared.

“The United States can also lead by example and live up to its highest ideals by welcoming more refugees,” she added.

Comments are closed.