How Europe can include Ukrainian refugees in society – Hrishabh Sandilya and Zhivka Deleva

European countries should start preparing to integrate newcomers in the long term.

Ukrainian refugee children in transit at a Warsaw train station (CinemaPhoto/

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has already generated more than two million refugees, many of whom have been hosted in Poland and other Central and Eastern European countries. The humanitarian response has been encouraging, despite the past resistance of these countries to providing similar support to asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa. Ordinary citizens, civil society organizations and government agencies have come together to supply border towns with emergency rations, first aid supplies, clothing, shelter and transportation.

While the Russian and Ukrainian economies are the hardest hit by the Russian invasion, the economic consequences of the war will not be limited to the countries fighting it. To mitigate the risks, countries need to start building their recovery plans now.

The European Union has announced that all Ukrainian refugees will receive temporary protection status (one to two years), regardless of where they apply. The Dublin Convention, which requires the first country of entry to assess migrants’ asylum claims, was rejected. It is hoped that the EU will now follow the same process for all future asylum seekers, regardless of their skin color.

The hope is also that peace will soon prevail, making the latest influx of refugees into Europe temporary and reversible. But, given the scale of the destruction in Ukraine and the lingering effects that the war (and the pandemic) will have on its economy, EU member states should be ready to welcome refugees in the medium to long term. And to avoid the backlash that followed previous influxes of refugees, they should already be taking steps to integrate the new arrivals into their societies.


Largely unprepared

An influx of human capital could be hugely beneficial to many EU economies, provided the resettlement process is properly managed. The current situation raises two important considerations.

First, unlike Western European countries, the new EU Member States still have very little experience with large-scale immigration. Hitherto remained insular and unwelcoming, their institutions and populations are largely ill-prepared. Secondly, the influx of Ukrainians to these countries has been mostly women and children, as men of military age have lagged behind. Inclusion mechanisms will therefore need to be gender and age sensitive.

As Ukrainian refugees are relocated to Europe, the priority will be to help them find safe, affordable and suitable housing. Residences and emergency shelters are not viable long-term arrangements, and national and municipal governments will need to work with private housing providers to find sustainable solutions – a task made more complicated by recent skyrocketing prices. real estate.

Repurposing short-stay properties could be a good start, given that tourism within the EU has yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels. And activist-minded municipalities could even demand the use of apartments by speculators and mega-landlords, as Berlin has recently tried to do. These initial moves could then be bolstered by innovative public-private partnerships, such as refugee housing labs, cohabitation agreements, transitional apartments and subletting schemes.

Schooling lost

With children making up a large proportion of the displaced, programs to help them make up for lost schooling will be crucial. Governments should reach out to volunteers, educational institutions and non-governmental organizations to help fill the gaps as they work to expand existing school facilities. A good example is the Back on Track project in Berlin, which has been very successful with a decentralized approach to remedial education for young Syrian refugees. In Prague, the Ukrainian One Class project has already mobilized a network of schools to provide Ukrainian-speaking teachers to new Ukrainian pupils. Such efforts will need to be replicated across the EU.

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In addition to providing housing, education and financial support, governments will also need to facilitate the entry of Ukrainian women into EU labor markets. In addition to providing training in job skills and entrepreneurial activities, EU governments should focus on eliminating bureaucracy that prevents able and willing refugees from working.

The Phoenix Project’s own work in Cyprus, as well as numerous studies, confirm that empowering women financially leads to better outcomes for migrants. But among the biggest barriers to empowering migrant women are inadequate language training and a lack of access to childcare. Here, the experience of the pandemic offers lessons on how to proceed. Through e-learning, institutions should be able to start offering language courses as soon as refugees arrive. And if traditional crèches can be overwhelmed, digital tools to pool childcare solutions and share responsibilities between migrant mothers could serve as a palliative.

EU Labor Ministries should work closely with companies, recruiters and placement services to ensure skilled workers are placed quickly. Translation and selection based on artificial intelligence can help, as can a relaxation of the process for recognizing diplomas and technical qualifications. Likewise, universities and technical training institutions will need to be flexible to accommodate late departures, missing documents and courses submitted in multiple languages. It will be worth it to ensure that refugee women gain the knowledge and experience they need to enter the labor market.

Finally, refugees who wish to become entrepreneurs will need sustained technical support, access to finance and, perhaps most importantly, mentors to guide them through the business creation process. Here, governments could collaborate with refugee entrepreneurship incubators such as SINGA and TERN, both of which have honed their approach over several waves of migration to Europe.

Solidarity response

These are just a few suggestions for policy makers to consider as the focus shifts beyond humanitarian aid. Other challenges, such as helping war victims overcome trauma and ensuring adequate mental health support, are equally urgent and essential to help rebuild lives.

So far, Europe’s record on the inclusion of migrants and refugees has been uneven. But given the outpouring of support for Ukrainians, one hopes this is the dawn of a new Europe, a Europe that lives up to its claim to uphold liberal democracy and value human life. Perhaps the unexpected solidarity response from the Eastern bloc of the EU can show others how to respond to all refugees in the future.

Reproduction prohibited—copyright Project Syndicate 2022, ‘How Europe can include Ukrainian refugees in society’

Hrishabh Sandilya is co-founder and manager of the Phoenix Project.

Zhivka Deleva is the director of a refugee center in Berlin.