4th Dec 2023

Ukraine refugees still 'dependent on private homes', report finds

  • More than six million Ukrainians have fled the country and some 4.1 million are under the EU's temporary protection scheme (Photo: European Union, 2022)
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For displaced Ukrainians, access to decent housing in Europe remains problematic.

EU ministers recently extended their temporary protection directive (TPD) for another year, until 4 March 2025. It's a system that has provided Ukrainians with immediate access to protection across the EU, including medical assistance, residence, or access to housing and employment.

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The emergency mechanism was activated little more than a week after the Russian military aggression against Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Since then, more than 5.8 million Ukrainians have fled the country for Europe and some 4.1 million are under the EU's temporary protection scheme — most of them women (70 percent).

The European response has been swift and has reached many of the displaced Ukrainians. In practice, however, the response has relied heavily on the solidarity of private individuals to house those fleeing the war, according to a policy paper by the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA).

In some member states, reception systems have being overwhelmed by high occupancy rates and a lack of resources.

"In countries such as Greece, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Ireland, the lack of political will combined with overwhelmed reception systems meant that asylum seekers experienced sleeping rough recurrently," reads the report.

EUobserver reported in February that around 200 people were sleeping rough on the streets of Brussels due to a lack of reception facilities for asylum seekers, an absent state, and a heavy reliance on volunteers and civil society organisations.

A long-term strategy is still missing by the EU and its member states to respond to the millions of war-displaced Ukrainians in need of adequate and affordable accommodation, speakers stressed during an event held by FEANTSA on Monday (9 October).

Solidarity and the use of private accommodation have allowed EU reception systems to cope with the huge influx of displaced Ukrainians, said Thomas Jezequel, head of the reception and vulnerability sector at the European Union Asylum Agency (EUAA).

"Solidarity has bought us time," Jezequel said. Adding more capacity was not always possible for financial or political reasons, he explained.

At the beginning of the war, the proportion of displaced people staying with private hosts was as high as 90 percent in some EU countries.

"Reception systems cannot solve societal issues such as the housing crisis and high pressure on public services on their work," Jezequel said.

Private hosting has its limits, especially as a long-term solution, and reception systems were already under severe pressure, as is the EU housing market.

At least 895,000 people were homeless in Europe last year, and housing prices have more than doubled in member states such as Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, and Austria.

On top of this, given the cost-of-living crisis, so-called 'solidarity fatigue' has also been observed across the EU as the war has drags on close to a stalemate, as reported by the Polish National Federation for Solving the Problem of Homelessness.

In Poland, which has almost one million people under temporary protection, there is growing concern that refugee homelessness will increase rapidly in the next one to two years, according to a survey conducted by the federation.

Since the start of the war, most displaced Ukrainians have moved to European countries such as Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Spain.

Rental prices continue to rise, and the lack of social housing only exacerbates an already-existing crisis.

For example, between September 2021 and September 2022, rents for studio flats in Warsaw rose by 50 percent, and by an average of 47 percent in Kraków.

Although the inaccessibility of housing is one of the main barriers to providing assistance to refugees, organisations supporting refugees in Poland are doing little to address these issues, Jakub Wilczek, president of the Polish Federation, pointed out during the event.

Despite some progress, there is still room for improvement in the scope of the directive and in the reception of refugees, says FEANTSA — especially with a view to providing medium and long-term solutions.

The umbrella organisation recommends that the EU and member states improve the monitoring of the TPD and the available stock of affordable housing — an absence that existed long before the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic.


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