Europe needs a plan to handle Ukraine’s refugee exodus

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine started, over 3.5 million Ukrainians have had to flee their country. Up to seven million Ukrainian refugees could arrive in the coming weeks, according to the European Commission. The EU has triggered the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) to alleviate the humanitarian refugee situation. The TPD provides refugees in Europe with emergency protection status. The asylum programme has largely succeeded. However, if the problem persists, the EU’s short-term success may not be sustainable.

Ukraine’s border countries, Poland, Romania, and Hungary, have had to bear the brunt of the influx of Ukrainians. Over two million Ukrainians, for example, have already arrived in Poland. Looking at the estimated number of refugees still on the way, Poland’s capacity will be quickly exhausted. Given their strict asylum standards, these countries’ short-term success has been surprising. 

We cannot expect it to last. Their uncomfortable asylum regulations, as well as their lack of expertise in dealing with migrants, indicate that the victory may not be long-term. 

The EU must come up with a quick solution for spreading the burden of resettling refugees among its member states. While member nations have contributed financial assistance in recent weeks, there have been no conclusions to dialogues about relocation. In recent weeks, there have been several different reactions to this. Italy raised the issue of a long-term strategy for integrating refugees during one of the EU sessions. While Poland has shifted its 2015 stance on EU-wide coordination, Hungary continues to argue that no EU-wide coordination is required. 

Hungary’s reticence to work with the EU to become a part of a more extensive asylum network is backwards, but unsurprising. Hungary should follow Poland’s example and seek to help. 

When it comes to offering asylum, these border countries have similar histories. In 2015, millions of refugees came into Europe from the Middle East, forcing the EU to scramble to provide shelter and security. Hungary and Poland did not take part in the 2015 Syrian refugee emergency plan. The stated rationale during the 2015 refugee crisis was that Muslim migrants would pose a threat to Poland’s homogeneous society. Poland and Hungary have been vocal in their opposition to such responsibility-sharing schemes in recent years despite the recent change in policy in Poland. 

Despite the many refugees approaching the Hungarian border, the country is concerned that agreeing to a relocation programme could lead to a permanent residency for the refugees. The opposition in Hungary is based on the 2015 experience. But the situation today is different from back then. The TPD has provided viable legal routes for refugee activities plagued by irregular movements.

As the situation worsens, the EU must focus on long-term measures to prevent overriding the capacities of front-line nations; long-term policies will be critical. The EU should establish organisations to coordinate the relocation of refugees who are ready to move, as well as to provide adequate financial compensation to member states that are disproportionately affected by the crisis.

Furthermore, the Commission needs to press through with its voluntary relocation plans to promote the freedom of movement of Ukrainians. The TPD already establishes the legal groundwork for such measures. It gives member states the legal authority that previous asylum-seeker relocation authorisations lacked.

Millions of Ukrainians are on their way to Europe. The EU needs to get its asylum pipeline in order. For their own sake and for the sake of the refugees that are about to flood their lands, countries like Hungary should get on board. 

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