The European response to the emergency situation in Ukraine

This article has been written by Serin Tuncehan, Dionne Ruizendaal, Emma Santanach, Belén Sánchez, and Giuseppe Menegus.

On February 24th, the lives of millions of people in Ukraine drastically changed. In two months, the escalation of the conflict has destroyed civilian infrastructure and caused civilian casualties, forcing people to leave their homes in search of safety, protection, and assistance. In this article, OCC explains the current situation for these people in Europe, paying attention to the work carried out by humanitarian organisations in bordering countries and the actions taken by the Spanish and the Greek governments.

According to the latest data, which UNHCR updates on a daily basis, 5,372,854 people have already fled the country. The countries that have received the largest refugee influx so far are Poland (2,968,716), Romania (801,453) and the Russian Federation (641,752). None of them has previous experience in dealing with massive refugee flows and have had to quickly establish reception systems to respond to the current emergency situation.

The role of the NGOs at the border

The initiatives that humanitarian and non-profit organisations are undertaking in the neighbouring countries that share borders with Ukraine are crucial. For instance, some members of the OCC team have been working as volunteers with the Norwegian NGO A Drop in the Ocean, supporting the Free Shop that the organisation has opened in Poland. Called “Szafa Dobra” (Wardrobe of Goodness in Polish), in the Shop refugee people can get clothes and shoes for women, men, children and babies “in a dignified way”, as the Coordinator of OCC Spain, Vincent van Grondelle, points out.

When being asked about the atmosphere lived on the border, van Grondelle explains that “Polish people have responded in an extremely nice way and they have been very supportive, hosting refugee people from Ukraine or making donations every day”. According to him, although sad, “it was a very positive atmosphere, with a lot of support for Ukrainian people, many information points, Ukrainian flags everywhere, etc”.

However, van Grondelle explains that, at the same time, it is a very “tricky” situation. “Countries around Europe need to take more people, as neighbouring countries such as Poland cannot handle the influx of refugees alone”. Further, these countries are unlikely to be transit countries, but rather countries of destination. Taking this into account, the only certainty, for now, is that Europe as a whole will have to make an effort in order to provide a successful response to this unprecedented situation.

A Europe committed to help

Fortunately, this effort is already being made. In the face of this emergency, the EU has taken prompt action to provide particular forms of assistance. Anyone who is permanently residing in Ukraine can apply for a special temporary permit, lasting one year and allowing them to have access to the labour market, housing, health care and children’s education. In alternative, the request for international protection remains certainly possible, with benefits similar to temporary protection; however, this procedure is likely to necessitate longer and more uncertain times in relation to access to the labour market.

People fleeing the Ukrainian crisis have entry access to any EU country. In fact, the authorities state that it is not necessary to stay in the first country of entry to the EU, but that they can continue to travel within the Schengen area without border restrictions during a period of 90 days. This includes all Schengen countries, even if they are not European countries, such as Norway or Switzerland, but it is true that temporary or international protection may change from one European country to a non-European country.

In Spain, the website with the most useful information for people fleeing the Ukrainian conflict is that of the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration. Free flights, trains and buses are also being provided from Poland to Spain. Ukrainians do not need a visa to enter and stay for three months as “tourists”. However, they can go to any consular office in the countries bordering Ukraine to ask about their concrete situation. In addition, for any questions regarding the legal situation of each person, they can contact the Ukrainian Embassy in Spain. The application for temporary protection is filed with the National Police. The application for census registration, with the Town Hall of each locality. The health card, at the Social Security and schooling at the Delegation of each provincial education. Furthermore, in terms of housing, there are a number of NGOs that are providing free temporary accommodation, like CEAR, Cruz Roja and ACCEM. More information on the reception of Ukrainian refugees can be found here.

The Greek government is also working to welcome those who are fleeing Ukraine. Passport holders can enter Greece through any point, land or air, and can stay for up to 90 days. If the passport does not have biometric features, a transit visa is required. Those without travel documents can only access through the Passport Control Department in Promahon, on the border with Bulgaria. Here they can obtain documents, valid for 90 days, directly from the Ukrainian embassy in Greece. During the 90 days of stay in the Greek territory, the Asylum Service of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum will process a special temporary permit, valid for one year, with the facilities described above. In addition, for anyone who needs it, there is the possibility of being accommodated for a short period in the open structure of Sintiki, while waiting for the preparation of the various documents. For more information, please visit the Greek government’s migration website, or contact the email: ukraine@migration.gov.gr.