The welcome given to Ukrainian refugees: update

Since February 24th 2022, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, Europe has been confronted with a migratory and humanitarian drama of a kind not seen since the end of World War 2. The continent has experienced the “unimaginable”: an unimaginable that has been the fate of other regions in the world in Africa, Asia or the Near East, a fact that researcher Matthieu Tardis reminds us of (Le Monde, May 17th 2022). Although Europe approached the reception given to Syrian refugees during the crisis of 2015 with disunity, in 2022, they took a united stand, although the efforts were unequally distributed.

According to the HCR, by January 2023, 15,054,466 Ukrainians had fled to Western Europe of whom 9,770,241 have returned to Ukraine. With 7.7 million people displaced inside the country (April 2022), in total, almost 13 million individuals (out of a population of around 41 million) left their homes, crossing the border into Poland, Romania, Hungary, Moldavia or Slovakia, or taking refuge elsewhere in Ukraine. Added to those, again according to the HCR, were 2,800,000 individuals of Ukrainian nationality who fled to Russia.

Ukrainians aboard Corsica Linea's "Méditerranée" ferry, May 2022
On board Corsica Linea's "Méditerranée" ferry, May 2022 (photo report by Sandra Mehl). The ferry, which usually serves the Marseille-Alger route, has been transformed into a reception center for Ukrainian refugees. Docked in the port of Marseille, it welcomes around 930 people on board. Equipped with 500 cabins, it offers accommodation and meals, as well as social, medical and employment support.
© Sandra Mehl

Ukrainians enter Europe

It is hard to know precisely where Ukrainian refugees are since they enjoy freedom of circulation within the Schengen area. Another difficulty concerns taking into account dates and the large number of statistical sources provided by different international (UN, Eurostat, Frontex…) and national organisations. We also need to distinguish between border crossings, transits through one country to reach another, refugees and beneficiaries of temporary protection status, and people who have returned home.
Nevertheless and according to the data provided by the HCR, as of January 23rd 2023, Poland had registered the largest number of entries by Ukrainians (9,182,436), followed by Hungary (2,117,868), Romania (1,870,837), Slovakia (1,127,957) and Moldavia (755,368).

Protection: European unity

On March 4th 2022, the Council of the European Union decided to activate for the first time the temporary protection mechanism provided for in article 5 of directive no. 2001/55/CE of the Council of July 20th 2001. This provision, to be applied in the case of a “massive influx of displaced people”, aims to ensure immediate but temporary international protection for people fleeing the war in Ukraine and to reduce the pressure on national asylum systems in EU countries. On January 24th 2023, 4,952,938 million people displaced from Ukraine were covered by temporary protection, with this number continuing to grow at a moderate rate according to the HCR.

Temporary protection status grants the right to residence in any EU country, it enables access to the employment market, housing, healthcare and children’s education. On January 4th 2023, almost half of the refugees from Ukraine registered for temporary protection or similar mechanisms were in Poland (1,563,386) and Germany (1,021,667). These two countries were followed among others by the Czech Republic (483,618), Italy (169,306), Spain (161,012), Bulgaria (151,332) and France (118,994).

Protection: women and children first

According to Eurostat, Ukrainians enjoying temporary protection in EU member states and for whom data are available are mostly women and children. On October 31st 2022, women represented 63% of Ukrainians receiving protection in Poland, 58% in Germany, 70% in Italy and 55% in Romania. The number of children under 18 represented 23% of Ukrainians seeking protection in Poland, 30% in Germany, 31% in Italy and 30% in Romania. Children under 14 represented between 68% and 100% of children benefiting from temporary protection.
The largest numbers of men receiving temporary protection were reported by Poland (37%), Germany (42%), Romania (45%) and Bulgaria (37%).

Ukrainians in France

By the end of 2022, according to a parliamentary report produced by representatives Stella Dupont and Mathieu Lefèvre, France had welcomed 106,000 Ukrainian refugees (118,994 according to the HCR in January 2023).
To facilitate their welcome, several measures were taken including special financial aid accorded for free housing, which could, according to the government, concern between 5,000 and 12,000 families. Multi-operator sites were set up in Paris, Nice and Strasbourg where displaced people could, at the same location, carry out administrative, social and medical procedures, find initial emergency housing or satisfy other needs (clothing…). According to the authors of the report, “in a short time, large population flows were welcomed in generally satisfactory conditions”, mobilising at the same time government services (via the interministerial crisis unit headed up by Prefect Joseph Zimet), local authorities, non-profits and private individuals.

According to the Ministry of the Interior, the reception given to displaced people from Ukraine represented a total expenditure of 579 million euros in 2022 (634 million according to the Cour des Comptes). These expenditures were expected to be renewed in 2023.
The mobilisation/solidarity on the part of civil society, by opening up their homes and enabling several thousand Ukrainian refugees to be welcomed by many families, was described by Prefect Joseph Zimet as “the great revelation of the crisis” (Senate Hearing on September 14th 2022). The result: over half of those receiving temporary protection are no longer being housed in a state-supervised system, which has however assisted non-profits and host families.

Mustapha Harzoune (January 2023)


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