In October 2022, the UN listed 7.6 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe, including 2.85 million in Russia—many of the latter were sent there by the Russian occupiers and went through a “filtration” process with credible reports of war crimes, including evidence of executions and torture. Some 4.2 million Ukrainian refugees have registered with the EU temporary protection scheme or other national programmes. 3.1 million additional people had returned to Ukraine by June 2022 when the UN also noted 6.9 million internally displaced people.1 In total, almost a third of Ukrainians have been displaced. Another 13 million people are stranded in Ukraine due to fighting, impassable roads or a lack of resources to travel.
Most of the refugees are now in the wealthiest countries of the EU having first passed through neighboring Poland (5.4 million), Hungary (1.2 million), Romania (1 million), Slovakia (690,000) and Moldova (573,000). Table 1 presents the top ten receiving countries.
Table 1. Top ten countries hosting Ukrainian refugees (excluding Russia)
Source: UNHCR, 4 October 2022
The EU temporary protection scheme for Ukrainians, which guarantees the right to work, health, education, housing and financial assistance for up to three years, has greatly facilitated this influx. The Ukrainian diaspora in the EU has also been helpful, including 1.4 million in Poland, 250,000 in Italy and more elsewhere.
The scale and speed of the influx and the large number of returns are unprecedented, although global experience shows that “refugees do not completely stop coming back at any time”. The number of returnees is due to a peaceful border area, the large number of separated families, men aged 18 to 60 not having the right to leave Ukraine, and the confidence in returning to the EU. Ukrainian resistance and Russian withdrawals from the vicinity of cities like Kyiv and elsewhere also mattered.
The EU has been much more welcoming to Ukrainians than to asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan who have faced violent pushbacks from Poland to Italy to Greece and beyond.—often with the participation of the EU border agency Frontex. Yet it has been difficult as refugee fatigue slowly emerges in Poland, Germany, the UK and elsewhere—not yet in a crisis phase, but a warning signal at the approach of a difficult winter on the economic and energy fronts. Alarmed, Google launches campaign against misinformation about Ukrainian refugees.
Compared to other refugees, the OECD says that the educational profile of Ukrainian refugees, existing social networks and immediate access to employment facilitate integration. But with women and children accounting for up to 90% of Ukrainian refugees, there are specific challenges, for example, child schooling, childcare and caretaking jobs, and emotional and psychological support, especially for the children. Other challenges range from missing documents to housing to human trafficking.
Unsurprisingly, getting the 2 million Ukrainian children in Europe to school is something the EU and member countries can deploy whenever they want. Programs range from individual learning plans in Sweden and Finland to the European Commission’s multilingual tools for teaching local languages. Portugal has bilingual material in Portuguese and Ukrainian, as do Lithuania and Spain. France and the UK both have immersion programs with language support. The 55 Romanian schools that teach in Ukrainian will now welcome refugee children as far as possible. Summer camps have been organized with Ukrainian organizations in the EU, Moldova and Turkey.
For children in particular, the trauma of violence that accompanies war and disorienting separation from loved ones requires emotional and psychological support. Austria has a mobile intercultural team program for refugee children and parents with access to psychologists. The Pharos program in the Netherlands provides socio-emotional support while adaptation classes in Belgium, Denmark, France, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain also provide psychological support.
Stressing that each country has its own challenges, Poland had 300,000 places ready for the upcoming school year, but placement is problematic, especially in major cities. This year, more Polish children are attending secondary school as reforms have increased the number of eligible students and there are a record number of teaching vacancies. The latter is also a problem in Germany with 150,000 registered Ukrainian children. There are also “welcome” classes attended by Ukrainian refugee teachers—modeled on the mostly Syrian influx of 2015. It has also made it easier to enroll in universities while trying to juggle mandates on compulsory education and online education as Ukrainian children log on to schools from their house.—some attend both at a cost. Psychologists are available in schools.
Germany and Poland also provide employment information. In Germany, 350,000 Ukrainian refugees are registered as job seekers. With 900,000 vacancies, surveys suggest that up to 50% of Ukrainians have found jobs, but the Federal Employment Agency cites a figure of 10%. In addition, the match between skill levels and jobs remains problematic—threat of deskilling and depression. The main obstacle is the command of German. Employers are also looking for long-term commitments. Most jobs are in transportation and logistics, sales, service, and healthcare. However, many of these jobs still require professional certification. Elderly care is a readily available option, but the wages are low and the working conditions demanding.
Poland’s 2.7% unemployment rate means Ukrainians are welcome given an aging population and labor shortages—common throughout the EU. With $3.4 billion from public funds and $2.1 billion from private sources, much of the aid is going to Ukrainians, from language classes to childcare and more. Some 1.2 million Ukrainians have received social security numbers and about half have found jobs. The World Bank expects a medium-term impact of 1.5% on economic growth. Again, however, language can be a challenge, as can matching skills to jobs. In August 2022, another 100,000 were employed in Czechia and 20,000 in Italy. The OECD indicates that 1.2 million Ukrainian refugees will eventually join the European workforce, mainly in service jobs.
The exodus from Europe of mostly working Ukrainians who returned home to fight and/or help families, 150,000 of whom left Poland, was also significant. They were mostly in blue-collar jobs, not immediately replaceable by Ukrainian refugees, who are mostly women and many of whom have higher education and face EU legislation limiting women’s physical work.
The welcome given to Ukrainian refugees is impressive but does not bode well for a similar commitment with refugees from elsewhere. EU members, including Poland, Hungary and others that have taken in Ukrainians, continue to push back other asylum seekers. Roma refugees from Ukraine also face harsh discrimination. The Center for Global Development notes lessons learned from Rohinga displacement, including local engagement, listening to refugees and host communities, skills training and the right to work, sustained international support to host countries , etc. All lessons are relevant, but they are not new. Europe knows How? ‘Or’ What preferable to support refugees, but support seems to depend who they are. Until this changes, the tragedy of forced displacement is likely to be compounded with each new refugee crisis.
 In September 2022, there were 11.9 million cross-border movements (not individuals, including non-Ukrainians and those with multiple crossings) from Ukraine to neighboring countries as of February 24, 2022, and 6.1 million similar border crossings into Ukraine since February 28. , 2022.