For the second time in a year, the world is facing a massive refugee crisis, testing not only the strength of international organizations, but also the willingness of countries to accept refugees as part of their nation. More than 4 million Ukrainians have fled to adjacent countries including Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, and Slovakia. Poland has been the largest recipient, receiving over 60 percent of refugee arrivals. According to the Pew Research Center analysis of United Nations data, this is the sixth-largest refugee crisis in the last seven decades. There are now nearly as many Ukrainian refugees as there were Afghan refugees in 2001. The total Ukrainian population before the Russian invasion was around 41.1 million, but now almost 9.1% of that has fled the country, and the UN Refugee Agency projects the crisis to affect 18 million people and internally displace up to 6.7 million Ukrainian citizens.
Refugee Intake Concerns
On March 4, 2022, the European Union (EU) adopted a temporary protection mechanism for displaced persons leaving Ukraine. The mechanism provides immediate rights of residency, medical assistance, and access to housing, education, and the labor market in EU countries to Ukrainian national and legal residents who cannot safely return to their home countries. The mechanism also waives the need to process individual asylum applications. The EU’s decision initially applies for one year, but could potentially be extended for up to three years. The EU also has directed nearly $550 million to provide humanitarian assistance in Ukraine and other affected countries.
Poland has taken in more than 1.9 million Ukrainian refugees. The Polish government has provided $1.8 billion to help assist these refugees and provide them with access to health care and social services.
On March 1, 2022, the United Nations set in motion a $1.7 billion humanitarian funding appeal to address the crisis. The appeal also seeks to cover an additional three months of aid in the amount of $1.1 billion to assist the 6 million people inside Ukraine and $550.6 million to help the 2.4 million of the most vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers.
As of March 18, 2022, the United States government has provided approximately $262.6 million in humanitarian aid for Ukraine in FY2022. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022 (P.L. 117-103), includes an additional $4 billion. The Biden Administration announced it would apply Temporary Protected Status to Ukrainian citizens already in the United States. Strong bipartisan congressional support exists for Ukrainian humanitarian assistance, however, there may be a debate on the amount allocated.
The at-risk populations in and outside of Ukraine are of great concern. Older people and people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable because they may be unable to flee from high-risk areas. Women and children make up 90% of people fleeing the crisis. Even though they’ve left the area of conflict, they are still at risk of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation, and abuse.
Government authorities, humanitarian organizations, and others providing refugee reception and aid have reported a multitude of challenges. They include delays at most crossing points and even difficulties for third-country nationals trying to flee. As the conflict continues, it is hard to determine the capacity and will of countries to continue to host these refugees in the long term.