The EU braces for a protracted refugee crisis that could displace up to 10 million people | International

A blitzkrieg was envisaged, not one of indefinite attrition. But a month after the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine, the situation seems to drag on in time. With Moscow bogged down on different fronts, largely thanks to the resistance of Ukrainian forces, the European Union fears that the conflict could drag on for months or even years, forcing the humanitarian crisis beyond expectations. The Twenty-seven, who already have 17,000 million euros at their disposal provided by the Commission and with the support of the international protection directive —approved for the first time in the history of the EU to deal with the emergency— are now seeking financial solutions and solidarity distribution mechanisms for refugees to provide a long-term response.

The war in Ukraine has already caused the largest exodus in Europe since World War II, with 3.8 million people crossing their country’s borders seeking refuge in the EU. The figures could rise to eight or even 10 million in the coming months, according to community sources, citing UN figures. “You have to prepare for something structural,” they warn.

“We don’t know what the next step is going to be. [el presidente ruso, Vladímir] Putin. We have to be prepared”, assured this Monday in Brussels the European Commissioner for the Interior, Ylva Johansson, in an appearance after an extraordinary meeting of EU Interior Ministers, convened to respond to the humanitarian emergency. Johansson has urged to prepare “contingency plans in case the situation deteriorates.”

At the meeting, the ministers approved a decalogue of actions to alleviate the humanitarian drama. Among the points, the creation of a single and centralized European platform to register newcomers is called for, in order to avoid duplication and calculation errors; It asks to coordinate transport and information between the different community partners, through neuralgic points to which refugees who want to travel through Schengen territory can go.

The Member States have also agreed to create a kind of index of countries based on their reception and reception capacity, to encourage the movement of Ukrainians towards them, taking pressure off the most saturated States. The implementation of a plan to combat trafficking in human beings is also planned. Already before the war, Ukraine was among the five countries with the highest traffic of people to the EU, according to the Commission. And the NGOs that act on the ground have warned of possible situations of harassment by pimps.

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Reception plan for children

The Twenty-seven also seek a common and coordinated solution for the reception of children: children account for more than half of the arrivals in community territory. There are so many that, as Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas pointed out last week, it is as if in a single month the annual number of births in Poland had almost tripled.

Despite the fact that the flow of arrivals has dropped – it has gone from 200,000 daily entries to around 40,000, according to figures provided this Monday by the Commissioner for the Interior – the European capitals located on the front line fear that the pressure will exceed their capacity to housing, social and health care and access to education in the medium and long term. In Poland, the first receiving country, more than 2.2 million people have arrived in the last four weeks, according to UNHCR. They are followed by Romania (almost 600,000), Hungary (594,000) and Slovakia (275,000).

In the European Commission they also recognize that the refugees have not been voluntarily redistributed by the Member States in the volume that was expected. This was the initial bet of Brussels: Ukrainian people, not having movement restrictions in the Schengen zone, would move to different countries. But the majority have stayed in the places of first reception, close to their country of origin, presumably to await a possible return.

Brussels has mobilized up to 17,000 million to deal with the emergency, according to community sources. The amount is a budgetary lace that drinks, among others, from the structural funds of the period 2014-2020 not yet spent and from the React-EU initiative, created to help the territories to strengthen the Welfare State, shield the services and reactivate the economy after the impact of the pandemic. The mechanisms, without descending to the detail of the sums, were announced last week by the Commission.

The Community Executive does not rule out expanding the quantities in the face of the drama that is coming. In the European Council held this Thursday and Friday in Brussels, the Heads of State and Government summoned the Community Executive to seek more resources, according to the conclusions agreed during the summit. The 27 call for “urgent completion of work on the Commission’s recent proposals to support Member States so that EU funding for refugees and those who host them can be rapidly mobilized, and invites the Commission to work on other proposals to strengthen EU support”.

“It is clear that our resources and reception capacities will not be sufficient to deal with the growing flow of people,” says a letter sent to the Community Executive jointly by the Ministers of the Interior of Germany, Nancy Faeser, and of Poland, Mariusz Kaminski , to whose content EL PAÍS has had access. “This is especially true in the long term,” adds the letter, dated last Friday, and whose intention was in part to mark the debate of the interior ministers, meeting this Monday to address the emergency.

Around one and a half million people have stayed in Poland, according to figures from the Commission. Nearly 300,000 have already arrived in Germany in secondary movements from bordering countries. At least 30,000 have traveled to other countries, such as France, according to figures provided this Monday by the Minister of the Interior of this country (80% of them women). In the letter, Berlin and Warsaw demand from the Commission financial schemes that urgently relieve the most affected capitals, such as contributing 1,000 euros for each refugee welcomed in the first six months since the start of the war.

The text ensures that Poland estimates that it has so far spent 2.2 billion euros on humanitarian assistance to refugees. “Extraordinary events require extraordinary measures,” asserts the letter, which also calls for strengthening the “solidarity platform” to “facilitate the possibility of traveling in safe conditions to other Member States.”

The letter moves in line with the decalogue approved by the interior ministers. Although, at the moment, the EU does not plan to activate any mandatory mechanism for refugee quotas, the idea is to encourage their voluntary displacement with more information about the countries with available reception capacities and the promotion of transport centers with access to trains, buses and even flights.

The response to the refugee crisis has marked a milestone in the EU. Only a week after the war began, it activated for the first time a regulation never used before, the international protection directive, which allows the entry into community territory of an unlimited number of people fleeing a catastrophe. Ukrainians are entitled with their passport to three months of stay in the EU. This directive, however, extends protection up to one year, automatically renewable twice for six-month periods, and allows access to housing, schools, health care and employment. Until now, 800,000 people have requested the protection of this directive, as detailed by Commissioner Johansson in her appearance.

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