According to latest UNHCR figures, there are now almost 2.6 million Ukrainian refugees, with around 2 million displaced within Ukraine itself. As covered earlier on Impakter, Ukrainians continue to face Russian military aggression leaving homes and hospitals decimated, as Russia repeats tactics it employed in the Syrian and Chechen wars.
The UNHCR warns the number of Ukrainian refugees could reach 4 million within a matter of days.
The number of refugees from Ukraine — tragically — has reached today 2.5 million.
We also estimate that about two million people are displaced inside Ukraine.
Millions forced to leave their homes by this senseless war.
— Filippo Grandi (@FilippoGrandi) March 11, 2022
The refugees are still almost entirely women and children, given the Ukrainian government’s requirement that any male Ukrainian national between the ages of 18 and 60 must stay in the country.
What about their acceptance in Europe? Neighbouring countries have been generally very welcoming and Poland has said that all refugees regardless of gender would be allowed to enter.
The current Ukraine crisis is different from the past waves of refugees experienced by Europe. When the 2015 refugee crisis saw Syrian and Afghan refugees flee wars and seek asylum in Europe, it took 12 months for the number of refugees to reach 1 million in total. The current crisis has however seen the number reach 2 million within two weeks.
The readiness and efficiency with which Europe has been able to mobilize to meet the pressing needs of Ukrainians, has dismantled the myth that Europe was under any threat of being “overwhelmed” or unable to cope with the much slower pace with which refugees from other regions of the world arrived.
Although the situation is still pressing, and further humanitarian support for those who have fled Ukraine is needed, the speed at which European countries have received the refugees has been startling.
Al Jazeera’s Eastern Poland correspondent Zein Basravi reported that refugees are being processed relatively quickly, with the waiting time at the border being measured in hours. Warehouses housing refugees are crowded, with hundreds to a room, but refugees have been spared from the cold, unlike the dozens of migrants who were left to freeze to death on the Poland-Belarus border last year. Ukrainian refugees have reportedly died from the cold whilst waiting on the Polish border however.
The justified support afforded to Ukrainian refugees in Europe has prompted many to consider the biases implicit in the way we think about refugees, depending on where they are from and their race
The history of antagonism towards migrants in the EU, discussed previously in more detail, could be explained largely by stereotypes associated with “foreigners” of Arab, Asian and African origin. As has been pointed out extensively, by popular American news pundit Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show”, media coverage and rhetoric surrounding the crisis has often centered around the whiteness and “European” identity of the victims.
Refugees arriving in EU countries can expect benefits afforded to them under the “temporary protections directive,” such as the ability to move travel visa-free in Europe, and the right to live in an EU country for for one to three years, along with the ability to work and receive access to medical services and education.
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However, there are limitations to the security afforded by the directive. As Zeynep Şahin Mencütek, a researcher pointed out in an article for Open Democracy, temporary protections like this often create a sense of ambiguity about what long-term rights are afforded to refugees. He says: “Temporary protection makes it easier for states to repatriate asylum seekers because they do not grant refugee status and do not commit to hosting or integrating asylum seekers permanently.”
Guatemala, itself a country dealing with emigration outwards, with Guatemalans fleeing violent and life-threatening circumstances to seek asylum in the United States, has begun accepting refugees. The Philippines have also opened their border to Ukrainian refugees.
Despite the open border policy enacted by countries like Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, the UK has been moving along at a considerably slower pace
As described in a previous article, the UK currently only allows Ukrainians with familial ties to the UK to seek asylum here, with only 300 visas having been granted to Ukrainian refugees as of Tuesday this week. A scheme, due to be introduced on Monday, likely in response to intense public backlash, will allow UK civilians and companies to sponsor Ukrainians with no familial ties to the UK, in order to help them receive a visa.
The government has also suggested that citizens will be able to take in Ukrainian refugees, providing them shelter in their own homes. The measures seem to be placing the onus on the public, deferring governmental responsibility.
As the situation escalates, and Ukrainians will likely face continued challenges as they attempt to find a degree of security in the states in which they are granted asylum. Those concerned with the welfare of refugees should not be made complacent by the progress made thus far, and scrutiny must be maintained on the nature and integrity of the protections afforded to refugees, to ensure that they provide long term protections.
Now that the myth of European weak capacity to host refugees has been shattered, the compassion afforded to Ukrainian refugees should be extended to the same degree to migrants that for years have faced violence and rejection at the EU’s borders.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Screenshot from a Channel 4 video depicting a refugee shelter in Moldova. Featured Photo: Channel 4.