Can Europe absorb 3 million Ukrainian refugees? – BRINK – Conversations and insights into global affairs

The number of refugees who have entered Europe in the past month is unprecedented, and the economic and social impact on the region is only just beginning to be felt. The EU’s Temporary Protection Directive allows refugees to work and access social assistance — an unprecedented initiative for the EU.

BRINK spoke with Catherine Woollard, director of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) in Brussels, about what we should expect.

WOOLLARD: The arrival of three million refugees from Ukraine in the space of three weeks is something unprecedented in European history, but also, in terms of global displacement crises, it is one of the most serious .

The majority have gone to Poland, where around 1.9 million people from Ukraine have arrived so far. Beyond that, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania are the other main countries of destination in the EU. There are also quite a number of people who have been, have passed through or are still in Moldova, a small, very poor country between Ukraine and the EU.

No need to seek asylum

The response from the EU side and national governments in Europe has been very positive so far and that is what we would have hoped for. This includes triggering the Directive on temporary protection (TPD).

People are supported. They are offered accommodation, food – basic needs are covered, but in most cases they have not been officially registered, and this will be done now. What has been prepared by the European Commission and accepted by Member States is a comprehensive set of rights for people covered by TPD. And it gives people leaving Ukraine access to work, education, assistance and housing.

DPT also means that Member States are not overburdened, in particular that their asylum systems are not overburdened because arriving Ukrainians do not need to apply for asylum — they automatically get immediate international protection.

What we’re hoping for here is what we might call a win-win situation. There is a way to make this work for Europe, which can be done by ensuring integration.

In previous displacement crises, we and others have called for the triggering of this instrument, the Temporary Protection Directive, because it is designed exactly for this type of situation where there is a large amount of refugee arrivals, of people in need of protection. And in 2015 and 2016, when a large number of Syrian refugees arrived in the EU, it should have been used. It would have been a more efficient way to handle the arrivals of people at that time.

No shortage of money

EDGE: Who pays for this?

WOOLLARD: The costs will be shared between governments and the EU. The EU has significant funding for this type of situation. It has emergency funding under the AMIF, its Asylum Migration and Integration Fund. There is also funding deployed related to civil protection mechanisms, and there is funding under EU cohesion funds to support Member States. Thus, the money will not fail.

The problem is that the money has to be well spent. And the question arises of the absorptive capacity of certain governments that are managing this situation. We therefore call for control of the use of this money and for the distribution of funding to the organizations best equipped to manage the situation, in particular civil society and international organisations.

What we’re hoping for here is what we might call a win-win situation. There is a way to make this work for Europe, which can be done by ensuring integration, so that people actually contribute as soon as they can, as soon as they are able to doing, working, paying taxes and being part of society.

And that means there are benefits for Europe, which needs new populations.

Operating risk

EDGE: Now that it has been triggered once, do you think that the TPD would be triggered again in the event of a new influx of refugees outside Europe?

WOOLLARD: We hope so, because that is what the instrument exists for. It exists to deal with exactly that kind of situation.

Unfortunately, in recent years a lot of resources – financial, diplomatic, political – have been spent trying to prevent the arrival of refugees rather than trying to manage the arrivals of displaced people in a way that is mutually beneficial, which supports them in the unfortunate situation they are facing, where they have no choice but to arrive, but it also works better for Europe.

EDGE: One of the unusual features of this exodus is that it is mostly women and children – does this complicate the picture?

WOOLLARD: Yes, because the men are recruited and forced to fight, it is overwhelmingly women and children who arrive. And that means there is an increased risk of exploitation. This is always a risk in displacement crises because displaced people are by definition at risk of violations of different kinds, including the risk of being trafficked, for example, and other forms of exploitation.

In addition, children have a special status in international refugee law and in international law generally, under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. And that means they have special needs that need to be recognized.

In other displacement crises, there is particular hostility towards young men and also boys, male children, arriving in Europe who may be reduced to being perceived as a threat. And that stimulates hostility and a less open response. However, they also need protection, and boys and young men are often very vulnerable. The different makeup of the refugee population is one factor as to why the response is different this time around. We call for the same positive and open response to all people in need of protection, regardless of their origin.

How the private sector can help

EDGE: What can businesses do to help?

WOOLLARD: The private sector can play a crucial role. One of the most obvious things is to support and facilitate access to employment. And it doesn’t have to be in a way that’s to their disadvantage. Again, this can be a win-win, given the labor market needs that exist in Europe.

And there are other ways to involve the private sector. One is to actually provide some of the services and support either as a contracted agency, but also on a pro bono basis, or as donations when they are able to do so.

And finally I would mention something very important, which is sometimes sensitive for the private sector, which builds political support for displaced people. And we know that in 2015, 2016, and other times, there has been behind-the-scenes support from the private sector, including for politicians, political leaders, and governments who are willing to accept refugees.

Just to give you an example, I think it’s highly unlikely that former Chancellor Angela Merkel would have taken the position she took in 2015 if it hadn’t been supported by large German companies and industrialists. The arrival of refugees in Germany in the long term will be of great economic benefit to the country. And even with the large numbers accepted, this still does not meet the needs of the country’s labor market. It is therefore important that the private sector make this known behind the scenes or publicly.