In the first week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, over a million Ukrainians were displaced, accounting for 2% of the total population. The number has since risen to almost 1.4 million, and is expected to climb further, as part of what the UNHCR describes as possibly the biggest (European) refugee crisis of this century. The UN Refugee agency estimates that 4 million people Ukrainians will be forced to leave, and millions more within the country are expected to be displaced, as cities continue to be decimated.
Although total casualties are unknown, The Ukrainian State Emergency Service has suggested the number is over 2000. Russian military activity, like all modern warfare, has had a history of creating refugees, with indiscriminate shelling and bombing in places like Syria leading to the destruction of infrastructure and staggering civilian death tolls. Ukraine, like Syria or for that matter Afghanistan, has experienced the destruction of hospitals, schools and other non-military targets.
On Thursday, the UN received pledges amounting to $1.5 billion within two after announcing their intention to raise $1.7 billion in humanitarian aid. They continue to accept donations via their website.
Some respite for Ukrainians hoping to evacuate was expected today, with the announcement of temporary ceasefires around the cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha, to allow for safe corridors of exit from the cities. However, reports suggest that Mariupol is undergoing Russian shelling.
EU countries have responded to the Ukrainian refugee crisis with uncharacteristic efficiency. Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia and Romania have opened their borders to those fleeing the Russian invasion, receiving the majority of Ukrainian refugees.
Poland, who has traditionally been staunchly anti-immigration, received around 700,000 refugees. Traditionally anti-migrant states like Hungary have welcomed incoming Ukrainian refugees, fleeing the worsening terror.
The response from the humanitarian aid community has been swift and broad across Europe. For example, Caritas has scaled up its work in all of Eastern Europe and particularly in the border countries around Ukraine, providing incoming refugees with food, medicine and temporary accommodation. To illustrate how this works: Caritas Poland closely coordinating with the government, NGOs and its local diocese partners, has set up “Tents of hope” at the border crossings of Przemysl, Zosin, Hrebenne, Lubaczow and Dorohusk, providing refugees with the opportunity to rest, receive food, tea, coffee, warm clothes, hygiene items and medicines.
"Here, Caritas' volunteers assist refugees from #Ukraine. People can receive a warm tea, some food, a place to stay, blankets", said Dominica Chylewska, from Caritas Poland who works on the Polish-Ukrainian border. https://t.co/tV6uo26Cbs #RussianUkrainianWar #CaritasforUkraine pic.twitter.com/VH9eT8BIvG
— Caritas (@iamCARITAS) March 4, 2022
The EU, in an unprecedented act, launched The Temporary Protection Directive, a never before used EU directive, which streamlines the asylum application process and grants Ukrainian nationals temporary residency permits in the EU bloc, despite Ukraine not being an EU member state.
Related articles: What is the EUCSRD? | **LIVE UPDATES** Ukraine-Russia War: The News as it Develops | Ukraine War: Anti-war Protests Around the World
The directive was adopted in 2001 following the Yugoslavia/ Kosovo conflict, during which time millions were displaced, forced to migrate across Europe. This week however has seen the first instance of it’s usage.
The legislation should offer protection to both Ukrainian nationals and third-country nationals with refugee and permanent resident status in Ukraine across Europe in a uniform manner, thus representing an attempt by the EU Commission to wipe out national differences in approach to refugees.
As Ukrainian Refugees flee from Russian military aggression, the risk of racist discrimination at the borders
Accusations of racism have emerged in both the EU and the UK.
In the UK, the refugee policy is ambiguous. The UK plans to extend the length of time that Ukrainian refugees fleeing the country to join relatives in the UK can stay in the UK. They will now be allowed to stay up to three years. However, the government has received much criticism for its decision to exclude Ukrainians with no familial ties. The prime minister suggested up to 200,000 Ukrainians may be eligible for visas under the rules, a number deemed far too low given the scale of the crisis.
In the EU, the new EU directive for refugees, whilst a necessary and proportionate response to the unfolding crisis, has inevitably led to comparisons to treatment of non-white refugees at the same borders.
Last year dozens of migrants were left to freeze to death, cut off from aid, shelter and proper medical attention between the borders of Poland and Belarus, with Polish authorities pushing them back across the border and refusing to consider their asylum claims. Hungary’s ethno-nationalist government has long peddled openly racist, anti-immigrant sentiment, even criminalising those that attempt to help migrants.
2021 and 2022 have also seen an increase in wall-building across Europe, pushbacks and systematic violence, and a range of other abuses enacted by border authorities in countries like Greece and Croatia. Further adding to the controversy are increased reports of racism at the border, as many foreign nationals report being pushed by border enforcement agents in Poland, on the basis of their race.
Reports of racist episodes are now emerging on television (for example, on France 24) showing that Black students in Ukraine had a difficult time fleeing, being “pushed back in line” by both the authorities of both Ukraine and border countries; likewise, North Africans are said to experience difficulties.
As Russia continues its assault on Ukraine, the EU must seize the opportunity to offer protection not only those driven out of their homes by the terror of Putin’s cruel war tactics, but also reform their entire approach to border enforcement.
The use of the Temporary Protection Directive, which was not enacted for any of the 6 million displaced Syrian refugees, also victims of Russian military campaigns, demonstrates that if it wants to, the world would have an ability to mobilize support for refugees and displaced people in times of crisis.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: A refugee facility in Poland, screenshot taken from a UNHCR video Featured Photo Credit: UNHCR.