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Russia/Ukraine: EU to Face up to 5 Million Refugees in the Fastest Growing Migration Crisis Since World War ll

On February 24th 2022, Russia orchestrated a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine. The invasion came following months of military build-up on the border. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that more than 1.7 million refugees have fled their homes in the first 11 days of the conflict. The United Nations have declared this the “fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War ll”.

The invasion has been coined as one of the “most serious global peace and security crises in recent years”. Refugees have crossed into neighbouring countries such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Moldova. The EU should expect up to 5 million refugees to flee Ukraine if the bombing continues.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, stated that he has “rarely seen an exodus as rapid as this one”. According to the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, the military attack on Ukraine has “opened a new and dangerous chapter in world history”.

Main Events So Far

UNHRC Establishes an Independent International Commission of Inquiry into Russia

On March 4th, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted to set up an independent investigative commission. The inquiry aimed to look into Russia’s alleged human rights violations in Ukraine.

Human Rights Watch has reported serious violations of international law and war crimes by Russian forces in Ukraine. There were reports of Russian cluster munitions which hit a hospital in the Donetsk region.

32 members voted in favour of the inquiry, and 13 members abstained. Only 2 members, Russia and Eritrea, voted no. The overwhelming majority meant that the UNHRC voted to investigate all alleged violations, including human rights abuses and any infringements on international humanitarian law.

Ukrainian Citizens Try to Escape Under Bombardment from Russian Forces

Millions of refugees are fleeing their homes in the hope of finding safety internally within Ukraine or in neighbouring countries. This volatile situation places those remaining inside Ukraine in a dangerous situation. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has reported that Russian shelling prevents civilians from travelling safely across the border. The shelling also impacts the ability to deliver foreign aid and supplies to Ukraine.

According to the UNHCR Operational Data Portal, on March 6th, 922,000 people had entered Poland from Ukraine. There was a record number of 129,000 refugees entering on March 5th alone.

According to reports by the UNHCR, Hungary, Moldova and Slovakia have each accepted more than 100,000 refugees. However, Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe and will struggle to cope with millions more potential refugees. Moldova has warned that they urgently need international assistance and cooperation to deal with this influx.

Caption: Russian forces fire at civilians trying to flee Irpin leaving 4 people dead.

Source: The New York Times

The invasion has triggered a huge human rights, humanitarian, & displacement crisis that has the makings of the worst such catastrophe in recent European history. Russia is breaching the sovereignty of Ukraine & challenging the global security architecture“.

Agnes Callamard, Secretary-General of Amnesty International

On March 6th, in the Irpin district in Kyiv, an artillery shell landed on an evacuation point for civilians trying to escape. At least eight people were killed, including two children.

Racial Discrimination Reported at Ukrainian Borders

The Ukrainian conflict raises the issue of racism not only in Ukraine but in the whole of Europe. Many reports of racism and hostility at the border control points suggest that Ukrainians are prioritized first, Indians second, then Africans last. Africans and Asians have reported violence and threats while attempting to flee Ukraine. Other reports suggested Africans were being pushed off trains and told to wait. Ukrainian authorities have been accused of hindering Africans from fleeing the war.

Race and nationality should not hinder these rights under any circumstances.

The president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, openly condemned the discrimination and insisted that everyone has equal rights when crossing international borders. Moreover, the African Union (AU) spoke out about these disturbing allegations and held that everyone has the right to cross international borders during conflict.

Double Standards: EU Changes Response in Comparison to 2015 Refugee Crisis

The EU has marked these recent events as the largest humanitarian crisis Europe has witnessed in a very long time. However, it wasn’t so long ago that Europe witnessed the devastating impact of the 2015 Refugee Crisis.

EU countries have responded in a different manner to the Ukrainian refugee crisis than they did in 2015.

Below are some of the most shocking media comments recorded since the conflict started. Various media outlets compare Ukrainian refugees to those fleeing from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Africa.

  • “This isn’t Iraq or Afghanistan […] This is a relatively civilised, relatively European city” – Charlie D’Agata, CBS.
  • “War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations” – Daniel Hannan, The Telegraph.
  • “What’s compelling is looking at them, the way they are dressed. These are prosperous, middle-class people. These are not obviously refugees trying to get away from the Middle East […] or North Africa. They look like any European family that you’d live next door to” – Peter Dobbie, Al Jazeera.

These comments prejudicially place Ukrainian refugees in superior and civilized positions. What about the millions of refugees who have fled the Middle East, Africa and Asia who deserve our help despite their race, nationality, income status or religion?

Ukrainian neighbouring countries have demonstrated public and political support for refugees. Volunteers have provided food, water, clothing, and medical supplies at the borders. Countries like Poland and Slovakia allow refugees to enter without passports or valid travel documents. Other EU countries have provided free public transport and communication services to refugees.

During the 2015 crisis, the EU called for detaining incoming refugees for up to 18 months, highlighting the EU’s double standards in its treatment and attitude towards different countries.

EU Activates Temporary Protection Directive

The unprecedented decision by the EU to introduce a Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) on March 3rd was welcomed by the UNHCR. This directive provides Ukrainians and third-country nationals with refugee or permanent residence status with immediate protection in the EU. This decision allows the EU Member States to offer “Temporary Protection” to third-country nationals who legally reside in Ukraine and to stateless people. EU countries have been urged to put this directive into effect and offer safety to those fleeing the war.

What Will Happen Next?

As an unprecedented refugee crisis unfolds across Europe, now is a serious time for reflection. The death toll in Ukraine as of March 7th was recorded at 364 deaths and at least 759 people injured due to Russian military attacks. The current crisis presents the EU Member States with an opportunity to showcase their hospitality, humanitarian values, and engagement in the global refugee protection regime. This is a critical period to learn from past mistakes.

EU countries must show that they can share the burden and provide all refugees with equal treatment and protection.

World leaders must be willing to show cooperation and solidarity to those fleeing persecution. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, stated that the latest developments in Ukraine are currently testing the entire international system, and he firmly believes that “we must pass this test.”

Laura Shorten
Laura Shorten is an Irish human rights consultant and researcher based in the Netherlands. Laura qualified with an International Bachelor of Social Sciences degree from University College Dublin. She majored in politics, international relations and social policy. Laura graduated from Technological University Dublin with a Postgraduate Diploma in Law. In 2021, she graduated with an Advanced LL.M in International Children’s Rights at Leiden University. Laura specializes in international law, children’s human rights, political science, international relations, middle eastern studies, refugee/migration law, gender studies, strategic litigation and global diplomacy. Laura has published various articles pertaining to international law and human rights violations occuring worldwide. Laura defended her Advanced Master’s Thesis entitled “An Analysis of the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s Legal Framework in Protecting Children’s Right to Health and Right to Life in the Face of Climate Change”. This thesis is published on the Leiden University website under the Advanced Master of Law Theses for children's rights. Laura has previously worked for UNICEF Ireland, campaigning for children worldwide who are facing discrimination and living in war zones. https://www.linkedin.com/in/laura-shorten/