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19th May 2022

Risk that EU hospitality 'wears out' warns UN refugee chief

  • Some 60,000 refugees have arrived in Moldova so far, says the UNHCR (Photo: Moldova government)
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The welcome that Europeans are offering refugees fleeing war in Ukraine may wane should the numbers continue to rise during a long and drawn-out conflict, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi warned on Tuesday (1 March).

Grandi issued his cautionary statement amid reports of Russian tank columns heading towards Kyiv, indiscriminate shelling of civilians, and troops from Belarus crossing into Ukraine.

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Latest UN figures suggest some 677,000 mostly women and children have fled Ukraine —numbers Grandi described as "still manageable."

According to the UN around half of those fleeing have so far gone to Poland, followed by 90,000 to Hungary, 60,000 to Moldova, 50,000 to Slovakia, and 40,000 to Romania.

The UN is appealing for some $1.7bn [€1.53bn] in aid relief, amid estimates that 12 million people in Ukraine will need help in coming months, and that up to four million people will flee to neighbouring countries.

Grandi said many of the people who are arriving in EU states, in particular Poland, are currently being helped by the large Ukrainian diaspora.

Others are also being offered aid from national governments and ordinary citizens, but"there are risks that this hospitality wears out," said Grandi.

Others arriving with no family or links to the countries where they have fled to could "become an issue" later on, he said.

Grandi also voiced support for the EU to trigger its so-called temporary protection directive, a hitherto unused EU law that is expected to be used to grant Ukrainians the right to stay for long periods on EU territory.

This law will be discussed and possibly adopted on Thursday by member states, which would then make voluntary pledges for how many refugees each would be willing to relocate to their countries. .

Dutch Green MEP Tineke Strik said the directive should apply to everyone fleeing Ukraine, not just Ukraine nationals.

Strik discussed that issue at a meeting on Monday evening with the EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson. But Strik said Johansson rejected the proposal.

"She [Johansson] said that it will only apply to Ukrainian citizens and those with a long-term residence permit," Strik told EUobserver.

Half a million foreigners stranded

Almost half a million people with different nationalities from around the world are currently stranded in Ukraine, according to estimates by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a UN body based in Geneva.

"At least 6,000 have arrived in Moldova and Slovakia alone," it said, in a statement on Tuesday, referring to non-Ukrainian refugees

Johansson suggested these people could either be returned to their home countries or apply for asylum.

Aid and support for Ukrainians has been pledged in significant quantities. .

The EU is set to deliver some €500m to bolster Ukrainian defence and will also deliver an almost equal amount in humanitarian relief, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter.

Speaking in Warsaw, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said his country stands ready to relocate "considerable numbers" of Ukrainian refugees from Poland.

Greece was also willing to relocate Ukrainian refugees, Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Tuesday.

Opinion

Time for the EU to protect all refugees

European member states need to take responsibility for this crisis by implementing the Temporary Protection Directive — for everyone.

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