Europe braces for new refugee crisis as millions flee Ukraine conflict
Thousands of Ukrainians have fled their country since the Russian invasion this week, bringing to the fore concerns about the next potential refugee crisis in Europe.
The United Nations Refugee Agency has confirmed Newsweek Friday that at least 100,000 people in Ukraine have been displaced and more than 50,000 of a population of nearly 44 million have left the country since the attacks began.
Meanwhile, UN agencies estimate that the invasion could lead to the flight of around 5 million refugees from Ukraine. The majority of those who fled arrived in neighboring countries, including Moldova, Poland and Romania. However, there are “many more heading towards its borders”, said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. said on Twitter.
Afshan Khan, UNICEF’s regional director for Europe and Central Asia, told a UN press briefing in Geneva on Friday that 1 to 3 million refugees could arrive in Poland and “a scenario from 1 to 5 million including all surrounding countries”.
“This would represent the largest number of displaced people fleeing to Europe since 1946-48, when an entire UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) agency spent some 40 billion euros (46 billions of dollars) in today’s money to cope with the millions of displaced people,” Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former president of Estonia and non-resident researcher at the Center for European Policy Analysis, wrote in a report. in January, which also estimated that 3 to 4 million Ukrainians could be displaced.
According to EU policy, Ukrainians do not need a visa to enter Schengen countries, with the exception of Romania which is not part of the bloc, which means that those who leave Ukraine can arrive in neighboring countries that are also members of the EU.
“Ukrainians are already enjoying visa-free travel to the EU today. It would not be a question of fleeing by sea as with the Balts during the Second World War or the Syrians in 2015, these refugees have no just cross the EU border by car, show their passports and they will be legally in the EU,” Ilves said.
The situation for Ukrainian refugees had been pressing for a long time even before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military action. On Monday, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US representative to the UN, told the UN Security Council during an emergency meeting that around 3 million Ukrainians already needed care, including “food, shelter and life support”.
“If Russia invades Ukraine even further, we will witness a devastating loss of life. Unimaginable suffering. Millions of displaced people will create a refugee crisis across Europe,” she warned before the invasion does not take place late Wednesday evening.
Serena Parekh, an ethics expert surrounding displacement and refugees at Northeastern University, made similar remarks warning that Europe could face a refugee crisis as the situation in Ukraine worsens, saying such potential crisis could have an impact on EU politics and policies.
“A refugee crisis could play into Putin’s strategy if his goal is to destabilize Western democracies and provoke right-wing backlash and the rise of authoritarian rulers,” Parekh said. Newsweek Friday. “We saw that [phenomenon] after the 2015 refugee crisis in Europe.”
The 2015 refugee crisis in Europe saw more than one million people arrive in EU countries seeking refuge after escaping conflicts in their countries, including Syria. However, experts have warned that the Ukrainian refugee situation could have a “much bigger” impact on European politics than the 2015 crisis.
Charles Ries, Deputy Principal Researcher at the RAND Corporation, and Shelly Culberston, Senior Policy Researcher, issued these warnings before the Russian invasion.
“In the event of much larger movements of Ukrainians this year, the political impacts could be similar and strengthen right-wing and nationalist movements. Given that Russian criticism of Ukraine’s NATO aspirations may be the casus belli , any backlash toward refugees in communities facing immigration flows could further divide NATO members (an effect that would be welcome in Russia, and perhaps bolstered by disinformation efforts),” they wrote. Culbertson and Ries.
The two experts noted that EU and NATO members could take steps to mitigate a possible refugee crisis, for example by adopting national disaster plans that are in place for natural disasters such as flooding.
Refugees International deputy director for the Americas and Europe, Yael Schacher, says a refugee crisis involving millions of people could also strain domestic aid organizations and neighboring European countries that will be primarily tasked with responding to needs. aid for displaced Ukrainians. Time reports the magazine.
She also noted that the United States will play a role in managing the influx of Ukrainian refugees by offering logistical, personnel and financial support. “We can ensure that the United States does its fair share in managing this flow of refugees,” she said.
Another aspect that could aggravate the current refugee situation would be the arrival of non-Ukrainian people living in Ukraine. Benjamin Ward, deputy Europe and Central Asia director for Human Rights Watch, warned that non-Ukrainian nationals, including those from Afghanistan and India, occupy weaker positions at European borders. This is mainly because they might not be received openly like Ukrainians who mostly share similar cultures and religion with Europeans.
“There’s politics, of course, wanting to stand up to Russia, the aggressor. That’s a strong political statement to… categorize [Ukrainians] as refugees,” said Daphne Panayotatos of Refugees International Time. “But it’s also because Ukrainians are largely white Christian Europeans, rather than security-seeking Middle Eastern and African individuals. There’s something here that needs to be emphasized.”
A report by Relief Web, a humanitarian information portal, noted that it is important for EU policy makers to show that they can properly handle the refugee situation. This includes managing and controlling arrivals, establishing a plan to temporarily accommodate displaced Ukrainians and preventing “chaotic border scenes”.
“For it is these scenes of chaos and mismanagement that have fueled an ever-growing list of reactive and restrictive positions on humanitarian protection and migration across the bloc in recent months,” the report said.
Many Ukrainians drove their cars while others boarded buses and trains as Russian troops continued their attack, causing hour-long traffic jams and crowded bus and train stations.
Traffic came to a halt as a line of cars stretched for tens of kilometers on a main four-lane road leading to Lviv, a city in western Ukraine near the Polish border.
“I’m leaving because a war has started, Putin attacked us,” Oxana, a woman stuck in traffic, told Reuters. “We are afraid of the bombardments.
Newsweek contacted several refugee resettlement experts, UNHCR and the International Rescue Committee for comment and will update this story with any additional responses.