The EU claims that it’s open to all refugees — but those from Ukraine get a much warmer reception than others
As a result of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, large numbers of people have been fleeing their homeland, en masse, for the past three months. Most have been seeking asylum in countries that are part of the European Union, which Kiev so desperately wants to join. According to UN estimates, six million had left by the middle of May.
The bulk of that burden has fallen on countries directly bordering Ukraine. Poland has received the most, more than 3.5 million people, breaking Germany’s record from two years ago, when, it became the first country in Europe to accept more than a million refugees (1.2 million), In that case, overwhelmingly from the Middle East during fighting in Syria.
Moreover, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia are part of the Schengen area, where there is no internal border controls. This means it is impossible to accurately determine whether the refugees have settled in the country they first entered or moved on.
Ukrainians fleeing the conflict automatically receive temporary protection status after crossing the border. They can immediately go to the EU country where it will be most convenient for them to find a place to live. For example, where their relatives or acquaintances reside.
At the same time, officially, refugees do not need documents to cross the border. Providing an identity card or passport, birth certificates for children, and medical documents is not a requirement, but a recommendation.
While crossing the border, Ukrainian residents have the right to apply for asylum, but the granting of official refugee status can take months.
Meanwhile what kind of assistance are those countries offering the refugees? In nations bordering Ukraine, they can stay in reception centers if they cannot live with friends or relatives. The EU has given Ukrainians the right to stay and work in 27 member states for up to two years. They will also receive social benefits, access to housing, medical care, and schools for their children.
Polish authorities have had to allocate about $1.8 billion to an emergency assistance fund to provide financial support for the refugees that have arrived. They already make up 8% of the country’s population, and the 300,000 Ukrainians who settled in Warsaw have increased the Polish capital’s population by 15%. Of course, all this has put an additional burden on transport, housing, and everyday life in the city, but authorities promise they will cope with the load.
The EU has become noticeably ‘kinder’ with respect to the suffering of refugees over the past two months. This would appear to be a significant step up, considering that nothing like this was offered to migrants from the Middle East. Refugees from countries like Sudan can only dream of receiving such hospitality.
After all, according to the Belarusian Red Cross, there are still about 750 Middle Eastern refugees on the border of Belarus and Poland. Many of those people do not intend to return home simply because they have none. The subject of the Iraqi refugees on the Belarusian-Polish border has completely fallen out of the news headlines since the conflict in Ukraine began. They have simply been forgotten about.
In 2020, at least 8,000 refugees from the Middle East tried to enter the EU through Belarus. They hoped to first make their way to Poland, Latvia, or Lithuania, and then move on to Germany, which seemed to them something like the Promised Land. However, the EU did not welcome them with open arms, but rather declared a state of emergency. In this case, ordinary residents did not line up to offer these refugees a place in their homes, as is now happening with the Ukrainians. No one went out en masse to attend rallies and demand that their governments accept people who were fleeing for their lives. Many of those refugees received no social benefits or access to housing, medical care, and schools, as the Ukrainians have.
At that time, EU politicians believed that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had deliberately dropped the Middle Eastern refugees off at the borders of the bloc. German Chancellor Angela Merkel even personally asked the Belarusian president to remove them, and, in the end, they withdrew. However, some still remained. In January, Belarusian border guards detained five Syrians in the Lida Region. The refugees wanted to enter Lithuania but where blocked and as a result they were forced to wander through the forest. When the Belarusians found them, one was on the verge of death.
While Ukrainian refugees receive social benefits and access to housing, medical care, and schools, Middle Eastern refugees are still living in crisis centers, dreaming of entering the EU one day. But for now, the refugees are being housed and fed, and a paramedic station has been opened. There are food trucks where refugees can buy supplies. However, they have less and less money to do so.
Other refugees are at risk of facing the same situation. There have been repeated reports that people from African countries are not being allowed to leave Ukraine. In February, the Nigerian government condemned the behavior of Western countries after reports emerged that its citizens and the citizens of other African countries were affected. Nigerians, mostly students, encountered border guards who openly stated that Africans could not enter Poland from Ukraine.
Perhaps this is an attempt by politicians from some EU countries to guess the mood of their voters and acquiesce to them. According to various opinion polls, on average, more than 80% of the residents of France, Germany, Italy, and Poland – the largest EU countries by population – treat refugees from Ukraine well. At the same time, polls from 2016 that studied the opinion of Europeans regarding refugees from Syria and Iraq showed that 73% of Poles, 70% of Hungarians, and 65% of Italians saw them as a threat to European countries.
This can probably be explained either by cultural barriers or demographic fears. After all, the refugees then were mostly young men, rather than women and children, as they are today. The question remains: why are non-European national groups, which differ in terms of gender and age, still facing difficulties when entering the EU, given that these refugees do, in fact, come from active conflict zones?
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has said that about 4,000 of his country’s citizens live in Ukraine, most of them students. He noted how one group was repeatedly denied entry to Poland, so they went back to Ukraine to try to leave via Hungary. “Everyone fleeing a conflict situation has the same right to safe passage in accordance with the UN Convention, and the color of their passport or skin should not matter,” Buhari tweeted.
The official representative of South Africa’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Clayson Monyela, has also asserted that students of non-European appearance were “mistreated” at the border. There have also been numerous reports of Ukrainian security forces refusing to allow Africans to board buses and trains heading to the border.
At the same time, the UN, which is working with other organizations to help people in Ukraine, insists that it offers humanitarian assistance “wherever it is necessary and possible.” This includes giving refugees cash for basic necessities, including food and rent, providing cots for use in bomb shelters, and creating reception and transit points for displaced persons.
Why have the EU states suddenly become so hospitable in the case of Ukraine? Is it really only because the people whom they have now rushed to save look European and are fleeing not US airstrikes, but the consequences of a confrontation with Russia? Finally, EU, and most importantly, American politicians, now have a reason to unite in mass hysteria and Russophobia. This is also a highly convenient pretext to distract voters’ attention from domestic economic problems, or to blame them on Russia again.
EU states are not in the best financial shape to cope with a new wave of spending on social infrastructure and employment, as their economies are just recovering from painful restrictions and supply chain disruptions, due to Covid lockdowns.
A daunting level of public debt, which has increased due to additional social burdens imposed by the pandemic, does not allow for a significant increase in unscheduled budget expenditures, and the high unemployment rate, especially among young people (in Slovakia, for example, this figure is 19%; and in Hungary, 9,2%) restricts employment opportunities for both local and incoming persons, which makes the labor market even more competitive.
In 2016, Germany spent about €20 billion on programs to integrate refugees into the life of the country. According to experts, similar expenses incurred by countries bordering Ukraine may cost their budgets €30 billion in unforeseen expenses this year alone.
In Germany’s case, spending on refugees has, in a sense, become a form of domestic public investment. After all, employing them will produce a multiplier effect for the economy in the future, as new workers pay taxes, spend wages at grocery shops, hairdressers’, and home appliance stores. But this will only happen if the refugees stay and do not return to their native lands.
Old Europe, suffering as it is from demographic problems, seems to be extremely interested in the Ukrainian refugees staying.
Thus, according to the well-known Czech entrepreneur and public figure Roman Smucler, the nature of support measures for Ukrainians today essentially presupposes the gradual integration of these people into European countries: “We have few children, the Czechs are dying out.”
Evidence of the special attention being afforded to the Ukrainians, as well as the desire to retain these neighboring Europeans, who are close in culture and religion, may be seen in the fact that the EU has applied the Directive on Temporary Protection for the first time. This was adopted twenty years ago to deal with mass influxes of refugees into the EU. For some reason, neither the influx of Syrian refugees in 2015, nor earlier ones from North African countries, was considered significant enough to trigger it. It is this directive that today gives Ukrainian refugees in the EU the right to education, healthcare, medical assistance, employment, and housing, creating the necessary conditions for early adaptation. The European Commission has generously allocated more than €3.5 billion for this purpose.
In the UK, about 89,000 people have offered to house Ukrainian refugees. Those providing shelter will be paid £350 per month for up to a year. This amount is small by British standards, of course, and authorities emphasize that it is merely a “gesture of goodwill” on the part of the state directed to those who will allow refugees to use their homes.
Local authorities will also allocate £10,500 for each refugee and guarantee tuition fees for school-age children. Many British officials have also recommended paying for psychological assistance to those in need, given that many have experienced trauma and have been forced to part with their families. And to make new residents feel at home even in small British villages, Ukrainian flags have been hung on my corners – an unprecedented action, given that no one was in a hurry to hang out the banners of Syria or Iraq when there were conflicts raging in those countries, or during the war in Yemen, in which Britain is directly involved.
However, it is noteworthy that the United States has been very reluctant to open its arms to Ukrainians. Restrictions have been in effect there since April 25 – Ukrainian refugees can stay in the US for up to two years, but only if there is a sponsor ready to provide them with financial support. In addition, Ukrainians must fulfill some additional requirements related to public health, for example, have a number of vaccinations. The program is designed to receive only 100,000 people, that is, less than 2% of the number of refugees.
The new rules do not imply that Ukrainians will be able to obtain American citizenship, even in the future. It is obvious that the country either has no problems with demography, or no desire to solve them in this way – that is, through increased spending. After all, though there are a lot of significant purchases planned for America’s deficit spending, humanitarian expenditures do not appear to be a priority.
This year, the US federal government intends to spend $5.7 trillion. An impressive portion of that will be for the military-industrial complex – about $800 billion. That is around 40% of what the entire world, put together, spent on defense last year.
Over the next five years, The Pentagon’s spending should increase by another 10%. These are not social items. Many experts are interested in whether this growth in the US military budget will correlate with a growing flow of refugees from other countries.