For Ukrainian refugees, Europe opens doors that were closed to others

WASHINGTON — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has driven tens of thousands of people from their homes and fleeing across borders to escape the violence. But unlike the refugees who have flooded Europe with crises over the past decade, they are welcome.

Countries that for years resisted taking in refugees from the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are now opening their doors to Ukrainians as Russian forces wage a nationwide military assault. According to United Nations estimates, perhaps 100,000 Ukrainians have already left their homes, and at least half of them have piled into trains, blocked highways or walked across their country’s borders in what officials are warning could become the next global refugee crisis.

UN and US officials described concerted diplomatic efforts to get Ukraine’s neighbors and other European countries to meet the influx of needs. President Biden “is certainly ready” to accept refugees from Ukraine, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday, but she noted that the majority would likely choose to stay in Europe in order to to be able to return home more easily once the fighting has ended.

“I thank from the bottom of my heart the governments and people of countries that keep their borders open and welcome refugees,” said Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN refugee agency. He warned that “many more” Ukrainians were heading for the borders.

This means thousands of people will end up in countries ruled by nationalist governments that in past crises have been reluctant to take in refugees or even blocked them.

Polandgovernment officials assisted by American soldiers and diplomats have set up treatment centers for Ukrainians. “Anyone fleeing from Russian bombs, guns, can count on the support of the Polish state,” said Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski. told reporters on Thursday. His government is spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a border wall, a project he started after refugees and migrants from the Middle East tried to reach the country last year but were stranded in neighboring Belarus.

The army in Hungary allows Ukrainians to cross sections of the border that had been closed. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has previously called the refugees a threat to his country, and his government has been accused of caging and starving them.

Farther West, Chancellor Karl Nehammer of Austria says that “Of course, we will welcome refugees if necessary” given the crisis in Ukraine. As recently as last fall, when he was interior minister, Mr Nehammer sought to block some Afghans seeking refuge after the Taliban overthrew the government in Kabul.

“It’s different in Ukraine than in countries like Afghanistan,” he said. was quoted as saying during an interview on a national television show. “We’re talking about neighborhood help.”

Mr Nehammer also said the number of Ukrainians seeking help is expected to be relatively low. At least 1.3 million people – mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – applied for asylum in Europe in 2015 during what was widely seen as the worst refugee crisis since World War II, stretching national budgets and creating a backlash of political nativism in countries across the continent.

According to some estimates, at least one million refugees will flee Ukraine because of the Russian invasion. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the United Nations, said on Thursday that the fighting could uproot up to five million people“putting pressure on Ukraine’s neighbours”.

Diplomats and experts have said European states that are willing to take in Ukrainians could try, in part, to highlight Russian aggression against civilians by offering a humanitarian response. “If you think the refugee crisis is one of Putin’s tools to destabilize the West, then a calm, efficient and orderly response is a very good rebuke,” said Serena Parekh, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston. and director. of its political, philosophical and economic program.

“On the other hand,” said Ms. Parekh, who has written extensively on refugees, “it’s hard not to see that Ukrainians are white, mostly Christian and European. And so, in a sense, the xenophobia that has really arisen in the last 10 years, especially after 2015, is not at play in this crisis as it has been for refugees coming from the Middle East and Africa .

The Biden administration is also facing calls to take in Ukrainian refugees, in the same way it granted residency or humanitarian parole to more than 75,000 Afghans when the Taliban took power in August.

It is unlikely, for now at least, that the United States will offer a humanitarian parole program for Ukrainians that exceeds what is currently authorized for the total number of refugee admissions for the current fiscal year. This number is capped at 125,000 this year — including 10,000 refugees from Europe and Central Asia. The guidelines reserve an additional 10,000 places for refugees from any part of the world, as warranted by regional emergencies.

Ms Psaki did not comment when asked by a reporter if the administration would offer temporary residency protections, a program known as TPS, to Ukrainian students, workers and others who are in the United States. to ensure that they are not deported when their legal visa expires. .

“The war in Ukraine is exactly the type of crisis TPS was created for – to allow people to live and work in the United States when they cannot safely return home,” said Senator Bob. Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, say thursday night.

Ms Psaki said the United States had sent about $52 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine over the past year to help people, mostly in the eastern Donbass region, where the current war began. as a slow-burning conflict between the Ukrainian military and Russia. backed the separatists in 2014. Nearly 1.5 million people had been driven from their homes by the fighting even before last week’s invasion.

Additionally, the U.S. Agency for International Development sent a team of disaster experts to Poland last week to assess the region’s demand for assistance – including water, food, shelter, medicine. and other supplies – and to coordinate its delivery. Hours after the start of the invasion, the United Nations announced that it would divert $20 million in emergency funds for humanitarian aid to Ukrainians, mainly in the Donbass region.

A European diplomat who is closely monitoring the flow of refugees from Ukraine said neighboring countries could also feel the pull of history as they take in people at risk as a direct result of Russian aggression. A Soviet repression against a 1956 Hungarian uprisingfor example, resulted in 200,000 refugees, most of whom fled to Austria before being settled in dozens of countries across Europe. Between 80,000 and 100,000 people – and maybe even more than that – left what was then Czechoslovakia to escape a Soviet invasion in 1968 that was launched to silence pro-democracy Prague Spring protests.

In both cases, the United States sent aid to help European countries settle refugees, and in the Hungarian crisis “within months there were no more refugees – they had been found a forever home,” Ms Parekh said.

It’s largely the result of the United States and European states working together to resettle Hungarians, she said, calling the effort “exceptional, historically.”

“It was a similar thing – people fleeing our Russian enemy – that motivated us,” she said.

Mary I. Bruner