Sunday

4th Dec 2022

Foreign students in Ukraine excluded from EU refugee law

  • Almost 100,000 people have fled to Moldova (above) from Ukraine (Photo: Moldova government)
Listen to article

European interior ministers reached an unanimous agreement on Thursday (3 March) giving almost everyone fleeing Ukraine safe refuge and extended rights to stay in the European Union for up to one year.

The plan offers immediate protection status to millions of Ukrainian nationals and long-term residents of Ukraine seeking refuge in the EU as of 24 February onwards.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

But almost everyone else, like short-stay foreign students from Africa in Ukraine, are not covered and would instead be accommodated and fed in the EU before being repatriated to their home countries.

The exception has roused complaints from activists and advocacy groups who say everyone should be given equal rights and protection.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), a Geneva-based UN body, said on Thursday it had received reports concerning dozens of nationalities facing discrimination while attempting to flee Ukraine.

Still, Thursday's agreement marks a first for a European Union that has for years grappled over asylum as some EU states such as Poland and Hungary erect walls along their external borders to keep people out.

The speed at which the proposal was made and agreed over a span of four days is also a novelty for a European Union that has often been mired in lengthy disputes on how to help each other when it comes to migration and asylum.

But it also comes at a time with some suspecting Russia's president Vladimir Putin of planning to use a humanitarian disaster to further antagonise the EU and Nato.

Putin's tactics, used in previous conflicts in Chechnya and Syria, were to "terrorise populations and use columns of evacuated civilians to storm into cities", Mathieu Boulègue, a research fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Programme at British think-tank Chatham House, said in London on Wednesday.

The EU's border guard agency Frontex has since deployed agents near the Ukraine border areas with Moldova, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.

Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine has forced over one million people to flee within a week, an exodus pace described by the UN high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi as almost unprecedented.

Open arms

So far close to 550,000 have gone to Poland, followed by 130,000 to Hungary, and almost 90,000 to other EU states, where most have been received with open arms.

The display of solidarity in Poland and Hungary for Ukrainians stands in contrast to their past refusals to host asylum seekers from Syria and elsewhere after over one million arrived in 2015.

They had also shunned efforts to distribute asylum seekers from Greece and Italy through various relocation schemes.

Now other EU states may later need to take in refugees from Poland and Hungary, should the numbers become too large for their respective national systems and Ukrainian diaspora to absorb.

The UN refugee agency has predicted up to four million people could flee. The European Commission says it could be 6.5 million.

Member states are being asked to discern how many Ukrainians they can handle with the European Commission tasked to relocate refugees around the EU, if needed.

"It's a fluid system," said a European Commission official, who requested not be named, when asked how the relocations would work.

Thursday's discussions by EU ministers implements the so-called Temporary Protection Directive.

The never-before used EU law offers blanket protection rights to large groups of people fleeing war and persecution.

It means they do not have to file individual asylum claims, which would likely cripple national asylum systems.

"The standard trajectory that asylum seekers move through upon arrival in the EU, won't apply here," Hanne Beirens, the director of the Brussels-based Migration Policy Institute Europe, tweeted.

Unlike past arrivals of refugees and asylum seekers from other parts of the word, Ukrainians with biometric passports can travel throughout the EU for up to 90 days without a visa.

It means most are likely to settle in areas where they have family, friends or other connections. After the 90 days expires, the EU law protection law kicks in and entitles them to residency permits and other benefits.

Others will have to be accommodated in state reception centres. Should they fill up, a member state may need to request the European Commission coordinate a demand for the refugees to be relocated elsewhere.

Those demands have yet to be tested and for the moment are not needed, said an EU commission official. "That's not the situation we're in," he said.

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.

Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs

Terezija Gras from Croatia, Dutchman Hans Leijtens, and Frontex's current interim executive director Aija Kalnaja, are all competing for a job left vacant by the resignation of Fabrice Leggeri.

Sweden says 'no' to EU asylum relocation pledges

Sweden won't make any pledges to relocate asylum seekers under a French-inspired EU plan because there is no legal basis, says Sweden's ambassador to the EU. But Sweden's new right-wing government is also tightening migration rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU must break Orbán's veto on a tax rate for multinationals
  2. Belarus dictator's family loves EU luxuries, flight data shows
  3. How Berlin and Paris sold-out the EU corporate due diligence law
  4. Turkey's EU-funded detention centres ripe with abuse: NGO
  5. In green subsidy race, EU should not imitate US
  6. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  7. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  8. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us