The EU “stands together to save lives”, said Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson. The number of people fleeing to neighboring countries could number in the millions.
European Union interior ministers on Thursday approved a scheme offering temporary protection to refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
On Thursday, more than a million people fled Ukraine to neighboring countries, according to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. the Russian war enters its second week.
UNHCR expects more than 4 million people to need protection and assistance due to displacement from Ukraine. European Commissioner for Crisis Management said the figure could reach 7 million.
Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, described the agreement on temporary protection as “historic”.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser called the temporary protection plan a “paradigm shift” for the EU, which has long struggled to reform its asylum rules.
“I hope there will be this agreement in principle today. In fact, I assume so,” Faeser said before the meeting, adding that it would then take a week for the proposal to be “in motion”. .
His French counterpart, Gérald Darmanin, said the proposal could be enacted “in the coming days”.
What is the EU’s plan to offer protection to Ukrainian refugees?
The European Commission on Wednesday presented a plan to offer temporary protection to refugees entering EU countries from Ukraine, giving up lengthy national asylum procedures.
“All those fleeing Putin’s bombs are welcome in Europe,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a press release announcing the decision on Wednesday.
The proposal aims to allow Ukrainian refugees to apply for protection status in any EU Member State. They would then be offered temporary residence permits and access to employment and social protection, among other benefits.
The protection status would remain valid for one year, although it could be extended for another two years, based on a decision by EU member states.
The plan, called the ‘Temporary Protection Directive’, was devised following the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s to deal with large numbers of displaced people arriving in the EU. However, it was never used.
Where have the fleeing Ukrainians gone?
The UNHCR and the Polish authorities have declared that more than half a million people moved to Poland from Ukraine since the invasion of Russia on February 24. Poland was already home to around 1.5 million Ukrainians before that.
According to the UNHCR, some 133,009 people crossed from Ukraine into Hungary, which has five border crossings with Ukraine.
The agency said another 97,827 people traveled to Moldova, 72,200 to Slovakia, 51,261 to Romania and 357 traveled north to Belarus.
However, about 8.5% of those who had fled Ukraine to neighboring countries – 88,147 people – had already moved to other European states, UNHCR reported.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on Wednesday that his country had taken in around 20,000 Ukrainian refugees since the start of the conflict.
fb/nm (AFP, dpa)
First published: March 3, 2022
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