Members' Research Service By / June 14, 2022

World Refugee Day: EU solidarity with Ukraine

In December 2000, in a resolution to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the UN General Assembly designated 20 June as World Refugee Day.

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Written by Anita Orav.

In December 2000, in a resolution to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the UN General Assembly designated 20 June as World Refugee Day. According to the UN, at the end of 2020 there were 82.4 million forcibly displaced people in the world; nearly 26.4 million of them were refugees and around half of those were under 18 years old. In 2022, following Russia’s war on Ukraine, Europe is facing a large new wave of refugees in search of peace and security.

Refugee flows to Europe

In the EU, after the massive influx of migrants in 2015-2016 had subsided and the coronavirus pandemic had limited migratory flows, migrant numbers started rising again in 2021. The number of first-time asylum applicants registered in 2021 was 535 000 – a 28.3 % increase year-on-year – approaching the level prior to the 2015-2016 crisis. Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis accounted for 40 % of all applications lodged, and Germany, France and Spain were the main destination countries. In early 2022, there was a dramatic increase in displaced persons following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Estimates from the UNHCR show that by June 2022, 6.8 million people had left Ukraine, most of them initially fleeing to neighbouring countries such as Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Czechia and Moldova. The EU Agency for Asylum (EUAA) reports that asylum applications lodged by Ukrainians in March 2022 reached a record number of 14 000, and that there was a parallel increase in asylum applications by people from former-Soviet Union countries such as Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. However, weekly inflows have declined, as many Ukrainians have returned to their country. By the end of May, 2.1 million Ukrainians had crossed back into Ukraine, although this trend is likely to reflect back-and-forth movements.

EU solidarity with Ukrainian refugees

Since the first day of the conflict, the EU and its Member States have strongly condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and adopted several packages of restrictive sanctions against Russia (in addition to those already imposed since Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea). Moreover, the EU and its Member States are mobilising support to help people fleeing the war, including through direct humanitarian aid, €1.2 billion in macro-financial assistance, emergency civil protection assistance and support at the border.

On 4 March 2022, the EU decided to activate – for the first time – the Temporary Protection Directive (2001/55/EC), as it enables Member States to respond rapidly and to offer rights to people in need of immediate protection without overwhelming national asylum systems. This directive grants people fleeing Ukraine a number of rights: to stay in the EU for at least one year, to obtain a residence permit, and to access education and the labour market. By the end of May 2022, nearly 3 million Ukrainians had registered for temporary protection in the EU+ (EU Member States plus Norway and Switzerland), while around 21 400 had applied for international protection.

Member States, cities, regions and individuals are themselves offering humanitarian and military assistance to Ukraine; some EU citizens are hosting refugees in their homes. As Ukrainians are one of the largest groups of third-country nationals living in the EU, many refugees seek to join Ukrainians already living in EU countries as a support network. The largest Ukrainian diasporas currently are found in the five Member States that host 80 % of Ukrainians in the EU: Poland, Italy, Czechia, Germany and Spain.

The European Parliament has continually expressed support for Ukraine and emphasised that solidarity and unity within the EU are key to helping Ukraine and ending the war. MEPs have also called for support for EU countries facing the brunt of the effects of the war and hosting a large number of Ukrainian refugees.

Read this at a glance note on ‘World Refugee Day: EU solidarity with Ukraine‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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