European Union shows unity in accommodating Ukrainian refugees


European Union


Volunteers in Poland prepare food for Ukrainian refugees. Photo EPA, Darek Delmanowicz

Members of the European Union have received Ukrainian refugees with open arms. This union can be explained by “ethic and religious factors”, the European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) director says.

The European response to the sudden influx of fleeing Ukrainians was quick and unanimous. Everywhere, Ukrainians were welcomed with empathy. The EU members decided to grant Ukrainian refugees special protection within a week. This reaction is very different from the European sentiment in 2015 when many Syrian refugees arrived. The situation is also in stark contrast with the hypersensitivity of the issue of migration, Réforme reports.

For example, Poland opened its doors to 1.2 million Ukrainians who fled because of the Russian invasion. On its border with Belarus, however, the country is building a wall to block the entrance of asylum seekers. Thousands of migrants, mainly Middle Eastern, attempted to enter Poland. The EU accused Belarus of sending them to the border on purpose. The same is true for Hungary. Currently, it welcomes many Ukrainian refugees, while in 2015, it rejected the quotas for the distribution of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The difference in reaction can be explained by the geographical proximity of Ukraine to the EU, Marie De Somer says. De Somer is a migration specialist at the European Policy Center think tank. She also believes that the unity is a result of the fact that the Russo-Ukrainian war also leads to security questions for the European continent.

Catherine Woollard, director of the European Council for Refugees and Exiles, confirms this. “The slightest expression of disunity or panic on the part of the EU would be exploited by Vladimir Putin”, she says to Réforme.

However, she adds that ethnic and religious factors also play a role. “It would be naïve not to see that, unfortunately, some states in Europe sometimes show racism and prejudice against refugees and asylum seekers.”

“We must be ready for the next crises”

Several parties, such as the French Presidency of the Council of the EU, hope that the current crisis will help to advance the European reception of asylum seekers and migrants. “We must be ready for the next crisis”, French Interior Minister Géral Darmanin urged.

Yet, the European response to Ukrainian refugees remains uncertain, Réforme writes. Currently, many Ukrainian refugees are hosted by relatives in countries where Ukrainian communities already existed. However, Catherine Woollard emphasises, “in the long-term, it might be necessary to set up more formal distribution mechanisms, in particular, if a large number of people without family ties arrive in the EU.”



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