Marion Gabriel, Contributing Writer
6 months after the start of the Ukraine invasion, the refugee crisis becomes one of European leaders’ main concerns. Short-term policies prove insufficient to absorb the influx of refugees while protecting Europe’s borders. As the war escalates, responding to Ukraine’s refugee crisis will require long-term policies.
The Ukraine refugee crisis in comparison
The global-scale war in Ukraine has caused the displacement of millions of Ukrainians. Conflicts in all the country have destroyed civilian infrastructure and endangered the lives of civilians forced to flee home. 6,865,625 refugees from Ukraine have been recorded so far across Europe.
According to the U.N, we are witnessing the largest refugee crisis in a century. Movements from Ukraine into neighboring countries keep increasing.
In comparison, the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis resulted in 1 million refugees. European agencies, national authorities, and local charity centers mobilized and facilitated asylum seekers’ protection in European countries while improving border controls.
But measures taken to welcome the displaced population from Ukraine were never seen before. Under the UN’s Regional Refugee Response Plan, more than 1,500,000 refugees found shelter in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, or Moldova, and border crossings from these countries are estimated at 9,210,988.
The EU’s short-term response to the Ukraine refugee crisis
Ukraine’s neighboring countries have progressively adapted to a cumulative number of crossings. They have provided short-term assistance, including livelihood support, access to essential services, and provision of cash and shelters. Poland hosts nearly 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees, and Moldova has accommodated about 100,000 migrants.
Central Europe sought to contribute to the burden-sharing too. In Germany, which has taken in about 725,000 Ukrainian newcomers so far – more than any other non-neighboring country, the emergency response was pushed further. Berlin’s former Tempelhof airport, turned into a ‘container village’, houses around 400 Ukrainians.
For others, life is still a daily struggle. Olena Nikolaenko, a Ukrainian woman working for Future for Ukraine, a charity run by Ukrainian women, supports refugees in Poland. “People are here with their kids, but without husbands, without parents, and often without money or work,” she said. “They are in this situation where it’s impossible to make plans.”
According to a recent survey commissioned by the UN, 16% of the refugees intending to go back to Ukraine plan to go back soon. But all countries are reaching their maximum means at disposal. While the length of stay of refugees is still undetermined, pressures on hosting countries are multiple.
First, economic pressures take the form of rising inflation in neighboring countries. Moldova sees its inflation rate rising to 27%, which makes it increasingly difficult to accommodate more migrants.
Second, pressures on the education system risk leading to limits on the number of refugees accepted. According to Jovana Arsenijevic, of the International Rescue Committee’s Balkans office, “The Moldovan education system simply cannot absorb all the children”. She also noticed that the increasing number of refugees makes impossible a stable education system. Instead, they rely on Ukrainian teachers from among the refugees.
Pressures are political, too. As the number of “irregular entries” rose to 114,720 in the first half of 2022, up 84% from last year, Ukraine’s refugee crisis may trigger political instability in Europe. According to The UK home office 2022 report – Channel Crossings, Migration and Asylum, about 60,000 people are expected to cross the Channel in boats this year, double the 2021 total. This reports excludes short-term solutions and presses for incremental change that deter immigrants causing rising terrorism and organized criminal groups in European countries.
The need for long-term policies
Countries begin planning for the long haul. Jason Phillips, of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), says: “We’re in a kind of transition phase. The big question for the future is how we can support people in the medium to long term (…) the displacement will be protracted”. The refugee crisis deserves long-term policies design to help both the refugees and their receiving communities.
First, policymakers can introduce policies of integration. By providing a regular migratory status that is not short-lived, Ukrainian refugees can settle in their place of arrival and eventually find work. Regarding Syrian refugees in Turkey and Venezuelan refugees in Colombia in 2011, long-term policies were progressively established. Turkey established work permits for its Syrian refugees, and Columbia introduced a 10-year protection status that will replace the PEP (Special Stay Permit) for all the Venezuelans in the country. Giving the right to work to Ukrainian refugees can contribute to their integration and like in Turkey and Columbia, replace costly short-term measures.
But such efforts must be backed by long-term investments. Investments in public goods- infrastructures such as schools, hospitals, roads, and telecommunication- will improve the productivity of the displaced population in Europe. In turn, refugees will bring benefits by offering new skills, and creating new business opportunities to generate trade and foreign investments.
Finally, health insurance is becoming essential to accommodate refugees in the long term. Many refugees who have experienced the atrocity of the war are now severely traumatized. “We all have trauma, there is just different levels of it. Now, we live in two universes. We are here and it seems as if everything is fine, then you look at the news and you see everything in your country. It’s a very difficult psychological state to deal with,” said Rehina Koshova, working for Future for Ukraine.
Accommodating them long-term also means preparing for a future where the war in Ukraine will end. Ukraine’s health ministry estimates that 3 to 4 million people will need constant medical support to manage mental health disorders resulting from the war. Trauma resulting from the war is likely to require long-term support too.
To limit the impact of the influx of Ukrainian refugees on hosting countries’ economies and political stability, long-term policies appear to be not only a preferable solution but also a necessary one.
Feature Image: Maria Teneva, Unsplash