How European response to Ukraine refugees differs from UK

Unlike the UK, EU countries have offered open sanctuary to the millions fleeing Russia’s attack in biggest refugee crisis since second world war

Over the past few days, images of desperate Ukrainian families being turned away by officials have thrown the UK’s response to what has been termed the biggest refugee crisis since the second world war into stark contrast with its European neighbours.

So far the UK has refused to match the EU’s decision to offer Ukrainians open sanctuary, instead operating a limited family reunification and humanitarian sponsorship system.

A concession on Thursday from the Home Office, struggling to show that it is keeping on top of the situation, means that Ukrainians with passports will be able to apply for British visas online and give their biometric information once in the country, a marginal simplification of the web of bureaucracy that Ukrainians attempting to take refuge in the UK face.

However on Tuesday, the EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, stood in front of the European parliament and stated that all Ukrainians fleeing the war would continue to be welcomed with open arms by EU countries. “Millions more will flee and we must welcome them,” she said.

Within days of Russia’s invasion, EU states decided to activate the hitherto unused Temporary Protection Directive (TPD), which gives any Ukrainian national the right to live and work in the EU for up to three years. They will also be able to access education and housing without having to claim asylum.

Over the past 12 days, the EU has accepted more refugees than in the crisis of 2015 and 2016, when 1.3 million people applied for asylum in the 28 member states of the EU, Norway and Switzerland.

The majority of Ukrainian refugees have gone to neighbouring countries: more than 1.5 million in Poland, Hungary (about 225,000), Slovakia (176,000), Moldova (104,000), Romania (85,000), Belarus (860) and Russia (106,000).



Poland has been the first point for Ukrainians escaping Russia’s invasion, with more than 1.4 million already in the country, compared with 258,000 elsewhere in Europe, according to the UN’s refugee agency. Tens of thousands more are crossing every day.

A huge volunteer army has mobilised since the first refugee crossings to provide food, blankets and healthcare. Thousands of Polish families have also invited Ukrainians to stay in their homes.

The Polish parliament is considering a bill that would immediately give Ukrainians residency for 18 months and give financial aid to communities, local authorities and families hosting them.


Germany had registered more than 80,000 refugees from Ukraine by Wednesday. The country has immediately given arrivals the right to work and children access to education. The country was also one of the first to offer free train travel from Poland, with volunteers on board providing food and water and helping Ukrainians access accommodation or arrange onward travel.


France has been critical of the UK’s “technocratic” approach and has itself received more than 7,500 refugees, the interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, said on Thursday.

The government said it was preparing to receive up 100,000 more in the coming weeks, and on a local level authorities and town halls are organising temporary accommodation, including for those arriving in Calais hoping to get visas for the UK. The French government has set up a website to help to connect families offering accommodation with charities.

Paris’s Gare de l’Est station has been a key welcoming point for the refugees, with volunteers helping arrivals with food and advice.


Italy has one of Europe’s largest Ukrainian communities and had taken in around 20,000 refugees by Wednesday, according to the government, with as many as 800,000 expected in total.

It has been testing arrivals for Covid-19 and offering vaccinations, while some of the refugees are being housed in former Covid quarantine hotels.


Spain’s regional presidents meet over the weekend to discuss how a country that has so far taken in around 2,000 Ukrainian nationals will prepare for further arrivals; it is readying reception places for up to 12,000 in the coming weeks and will extend its facilities to meet demand.

Czech Republic

Earlier this week, the interior ministry of the Czech Republic said the country had already taken in more than 100,000 Ukrainian refugees since the Russian invasion began on 24 February. Four days after the Temporary Protection Directive was triggered by EU states on 3 March, the Czech government had already processed about 57,000 “special” visas, more than half of which went to children. The Czech Republic had a large Ukrainian diaspora of more than 197,000 before the war began.


Greece has accepted about 7,000 Ukrainians since the refugee exodus began, according to migration ministry officials. This week the education minister, Niki Kerameus, said more than 1,000 refugee children, mostly from the war-torn country’s sizeable ethnic Greek community, were poised to be enrolled in local schools, with special classes being set up for those who did not know the language.

On Wednesday Cyprus’s interior ministry said close to 3,000 Ukrainians had flown into the Mediterranean island, itself partitioned by war, since 25 February, the day after Russian forces crossed into Ukraine. Of that number, 19 had sought asylum, the ministry said.


Kaamil Ahmed, Annie Kelly, Sam Jones in Madrid, Helena Smith in Athens, Angelique Chrisafis in Paris and Angela Giuffrida in Rome

The GuardianTramp

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