Friday

12th Apr 2024

Dutch deportation threat faces thousands who fled Ukraine war

  • The EU temporary protection scheme was first activated in March 2022, after the full invasion of Ukraine. Now, many non-Ukrainians who were temporarily residing in the country face deportation from the Netherlands (Photo: Piotr Chrobot)
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Up to 1,700 individuals who held temporary residence permits in Ukraine before the war started and fled to the Netherlands risk deportation to their country of origin after Monday (1 April 2024).

In early 2023, the then Dutch migration minister Eric van der Burg announced that the temporary protection for third-country nationals who hold a temporary residence permit in Ukraine, including students who lived and studied in the country, would end by 4 September 2023 — six months earlier than the initial deadline.

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Van der Burg said not taking action would "overburden" municipalities and promised €5,000 as compensation for all people willing to leave the Netherlands voluntarily.

The EU temporary protection scheme was activated for the first time in March 2022 to welcome Ukrainian refugees as well as those who had a valid temporary residence permit in Ukraine and fled the war after the Russian military invasion.

It was the first time the EU implemented a directive introduced in 2001 to give a legal instrument to welcome possible migratory flows from the former Yugoslavia.

'Injustice'

In January, the Dutch government's decision to terminate in September 2023 the protection for third-country nationals with temporary residency in Ukraine was overruled by the Council of State, the Dutch highest administrative court.

But the court also said that the extension of the protection until March 2025 agreed by EU member states does not apply to the third-country nationals with temporary residency in Ukraine who had already received temporary protection. This meant that they would have to leave the country by 1 April or risk being forcibly sent back to their country of origin.

Isaac Awodola, a Nigerian IT professional who was based in Odesa before the war started, described the court decision as "injustice".

"We felt like the consequences of war did not count as anything and our lives meant nothing," Awodola, who is the co-founder of Derdelanders uit Oekraïne, an informal group of non-Ukrainian refugees who are demanding equal rights and the extension of the temporary protection scheme, told EUobserver.

"We want the government to understand the importance of human rights, and to use empathy and compassion to treat ourselves because we are also human beings. We want a one-year extension as the Ukrainians," he added.

Likewise, immigration lawyers have raised concerns regarding the Dutch government's interpretation and implementation of EU law.

"Our argument is that the first instance judges should assess those cases autonomously and ensure that EU law is applied correctly," Lotte van Diepen, a lawyer at Everaert Advocaten, a Dutch law firm specialised in immigration law, told EUobserver.

The Dutch court referred to the EU Council's decision to extend protection to all refugees coming from Ukraine until 4 March 2025. However, this decision was published in the EU's Official Journal the day after the court hearings on the case concluded, van Diepen explained.

According to van Diepen, the interpretation of the Dutch court to terminate the protection for non-Ukrainians one year earlier than stated in the EU Council's decision is "incorrect" because the extension of temporary protection doesn't make distinctions "between the different categories of people suitable to enjoy the protection".

"We don't comment on national rulings," an EU commission spokesperson told EUobserver when asked about the risk of deportation looming for hundreds of refugees in the Netherlands.

Students face uncertainty

Nevertheless, many of those foreigners who relocated to Amsterdam and other major Dutch cities in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine now face an uncertain situation.

"Some students wanted to apply for a study visa but they didn't do it because the cost of studying in the Netherlands is very expensive compared to the one in Ukraine," said Awodola.

Refugees from Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco and India didn't have automatic access to university scholarships like Ukrainian nationals.

Miriam Adeshoga, a 30-year-old Nigerian student who had to flee Kyiv and is now in Amsterdam, was admitted to continue her third year of a degree in computer sciences. But higher university cost meant that she will have to work next year.

"I never wanted to leave Ukraine, I saw my future there", she told EUobserver

An academic year costs €3,900 at the Ukrainian Sumy University compared to €6,000-€15,000 per year for a Bachelor's degree or between €8,000 and €20,000 per year for a Master's degree in the Netherlands.

A district court in Den Bosch ruled in March in favour of the applicants, arguing that their protection ends on 4 March 2025 — in line with the EU scheme.

However, a separate court in Rotterdam recently ruled that the Dutch government could terminate the temporary protection directive to which the country has voluntarily applied.

Other cases are awaiting rulings from other Dutch district courts.

Author bio

Lorenzo Di Stasi is a Brussels-based independent journalist renowned for covering and analysing European Union affairs, migrations, and social issues.

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