Since Russia invaded Ukraine, three million people have fled Ukraine and traveled mostly to neighboring European countries such as Romania, Poland, and Moldova. There are nearly two million Ukrainians internally displaced, and the European Union (E.U.) has estimated that the refugee count could climb to seven million. Ukrainians fear for their lives as Russian forces have destroyed civilian infrastructure and caused the deaths of at least 816 civilians, with some estimates even higher.
As a great mass of people try to leave Ukraine, trains to the border have been overcrowded, and some people have had to wait up to a day to cross to safety. United Nations (U.N.) spokeswoman Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams said that it was mostly women and children attempting to flee. This is due to the fact that on February 25th, Ukraine enacted martial law and required that all males between the ages of 18 and 60 stay and defend their country.
Additionally, those attempting to drive across the border face a lot of traffic, which has caused some to resort to days of walking to safety. In some cases, children have been dropped off by relatives who then returned to Ukraine or the children were left to make the trek alone.
Amidst the crisis, many governments and their citizens have been trying to assist with humanitarian aid. The U.N. has been trying to give assistance inside Ukraine “wherever necessary and possible,” and estimate that 12 million people will need that assistance. They have been delivering supplies throughout the country, such as food, tarpaulins for damaged homes, and folding beds for bomb shelters. The U.N. also set up reception and transit points for those who are internally displaced. The city of Lviv notably received 200,000 migrants, and the mayor has said that they have reached their capacity to help.
Poland has taken in 2 million refugees, while Romania has accepted over 500,000, Moldova 360,000, Hungary 300,000, Slovakia 240,00, and Russia 185,000. To adapt to the mass exodus of Ukraines, policies have been made throughout Europe to help accommodate the journeys of the millions of people crossing borders. The most prominent is the EU granting a
Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) for the first time in history for Ukrainian refugees. This action allows visa-free travel throughout E.U. countries as well as the right to work, education, housing and health care for one year. Although the TPD is not a legal status, it allows all people who have fled from Ukraine the opportunity for asylum by applying for temporary residence permits in any E.U. country.
The U.S. Government and its citizens have also attempted to assist refugees. Very few refugees have come to the US thus far, so Biden is trying to fast-track the process. Another notable effort came from two Harvard students who set up an online platform to connect Ukrainian refugees with hosts around the world. Thus far, there have been a million users on the site they created, Ukraine Take Shelter.
“The most obvious reason is discrimination. The E.U. is generously opening its borders to White Christian Ukrainians, but refused equal protection to Syrians, Afghans, and other non-White asylum seekers.”
While the strong response to this refugee crisis is of course good and necessary, some believe that it has exposed a double standard. The activation of the TPD for the first time raises the question of why it has never been put into practice before. The Washington Post answers by saying that, “The most obvious reason is discrimination. The E.U. is generously opening its borders to White Christian Ukrainians, but refused equal protection to Syrians, Afghans, and other non-White asylum seekers.” The Washington Post proposes another reason is geopolitical, and refers to the fact that the countries who opposed the 2015 TPD (Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia) were not directly affected by the situation. Now that refugees are continuously crossing into their countries and formally applying for asylum, they want the help of a unified E.U. policy to deal with it. The third possibility presented by the Washington Post is that the E.U. wants to ensure that European governments have the ability to implement migration policies in the way the E.U. intends. They are hesitant to trust some Eastern European governments because of their history of undermining E.U. values.
There’s no doubt that the response to assist the Ukrainian refugees has been exceptional. It is unfortunate that such a strong response was not present in past crises. Hopefully, the current humanitarian efforts can be replicated in the future.