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28th May 2022

EU protection for all nationalities fleeing Ukraine, say MEPs

  • EU home affairs commissioner Johansson (r) at Romania's border with Ukraine (Photo: European Union, 2022)
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Pressure is mounting on EU authorities to offer equal protection both to Ukrainians and to other nationalities fleeing the Russian onslaught.

The UN refugee agency estimated that some 500,000 people had left Ukraine as of Monday afternoon (28 February) — but there are questions about whether non-Europeans also seeking refuge are getting fair treatment.

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Concerned European lawmakers were expected to ask the European Commission, the EU executive, to make a proposal that offers everyone fleeing Ukraine — regardless of nationality —full protection rights and to be allowed to remain for extended periods of time in the EU.

The so-called temporary protection measures are part of an EU law that has never been used before.

Dutch Green MEP Tineke Strike said the issue of protecting everyone fleeing Ukraine will be raised on Monday evening with EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson at a meeting of the European Parliament's civil liberties committee.

Johansson, who is to join by video link, was earlier on Monday touring the land borders Ukraine shares with Romania and Slovakia.

Those two states, plus Hungary, Latvia and Moldova, all have seen arrivals of refugees from Ukraine, though the vast bulk have so far gone to Poland.

On Sunday Johansson proposed activating the temporary protection measure to allow Ukrainians to stay on EU territory, beyond their current 90 day visa-free limit, possibly for up to three years.

Other nationalities leaving Ukraine for the EU could either apply for asylum or return to their home countries with EU assistance, she said.

The commission's proposal on extending the length of stay of Ukrainians in the EU will be discussed on Thursday among ministers in Brussels before being voted on.

Double standards?

The demand by European lawmakers to aid everyone leaving Ukraine regardless of nationality comes amid a growing queasiness about whether EU states are more willing to help Ukrainians than people of other nationalities — and whether the the comparative hesitation to take refugees and migrants escaping conflicts in other parts of the world belies a double-standard.

Bulgaria's prime minister Kiril Petkov recently told reporters that Ukrainian refugees are easier to accept because they are European.

Similar perspectives have been aired on major news networks like the BBC and CBS.

"This isn't a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades," CBS News senior correspondent Charlie D'Agata said in a broadcast from Kyiv last Friday.

"This is a relatively civilised, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully, too – city where you wouldn't expect that, or hope that it's going to happen."

D'Agata later apologised for the statements.

Comments trending on Twitter under the hashtag #AfricansInUkraine suggest that some students of foreign nationalities have been unable to leave Ukraine or have gotten stuck at the border. Other comments suggest some people are trapped at train stations in Kiev and elsewhere.

"These double standards are contradictory to European principles of equal treatment and cannot be tolerated," said the European Network Against Racism, a Brussels-based advocacy group, in a statement on Monday.

Even so a number of Nigerians have been able to leave, according to diplomatic sources.

The Nigerian ministry of affairs was expecting some 200 nationals to arrive in the Hungarian capital, from Ukraine, on Monday.

"Our missions have been directed to send staff and buses to the border points in their respective countries to transport our citizens," Nigeria's minister of foreign affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, wrote on Twitter.

A group of 74 Nigerians arrived in Budapest over the weekend, where they are being taken care of, said the Nigerian ministry.

Another 130 Nigerians made it to the Romanian capital Bucharest and have been provided accommodation, while 52 had arrived in Poland, according to the ministry.

Germany has announced free train rides for Ukrainians travelling to Germany from Poland.

"We want to make it easier for refugees to continue their journey from the border and within Germany," the German rail company Deutsche Bahn AG tweeted at the weekend.

Austria has made similar proposals.

"Ukrainians who are fleeing will be able to use OeBB trains without tickets," said Austrian transport minister Leonore Gewessler, in a tweet.

Airbnb said it is working with hosts to offer free housing for up to 100,000 refugees fleeing from Ukraine.

Zelensky pleads to join EU, but is told to wait

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said Ukraine and Europe are "closer than ever," but she also made it clear that the bloc wouldn't bend its rules to offer the war-torn nation a fast-track to EU membership.

Opinion

Fortress Europe should lower drawbridge — for all

Racist statements by European politicians have already shocked and hurt many, and they have reinforced perceptions of Europe as inherently wedded to bigoted, Eurocentric and Orientalist narratives.

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