On the ground, the attitude towards migrants contrasts sharply with the position of the authorities
Millions of Ukrainian refugees may remain in the European Union, a senior EU official said, commenting on the biggest migrant crisis in Europe since World War II. At the same time, accusations of racism are heard against European countries that accept immigrants from Ukraine.
About 7 million Ukrainians found themselves refugees outside their country, with the vast majority finding refuge in the European Union, writes The Washington Post.
In an unprecedented move since the outbreak of the Ukrainian conflict, the European Union as a bloc has used extraordinary force, which has not been used since it was conceived two decades ago, and provided the Ukrainians with a kind of full protection. The “Temporary Protection Directive” is known to give those who receive it an extended right to free movement within the European Union, as well as a work permit and access to health care, education and housing.
This is “a very generous offer that goes far beyond classical protection,” European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said during a visit to Washington.
Schinas, whose responsibilities include coordinating the European Union’s continental approach to grant policy Asylum and Migration, believes that many of these refugees may not eventually return to their home countries. According to his estimates, at least 2.5 to 3 million Ukrainians will remain in European countries.
This figure is several times higher than the number of Syrian and Afghan war refugees granted asylum in the EU. in recent years. From Schinas' point of view, this is a positive thing. He described many Ukrainian refugees as “highly educated and skilled individuals” who “can immediately integrate into our systems,” especially as the continent as a whole faces demographic decline and significant skills shortages in certain critical sectors.
Many refugees have tapped into the Ukrainian diaspora network and found housing and housing, while tens of thousands of citizens in the European Union, the UK and the United States, among other countries, have registered to host or sponsor Ukrainian refugees. Ukrainian schoolchildren have access to their educational programs in digital form. And while Ukraine's coronavirus vaccination rates have been relatively low, the oversupply of vaccines in the European Union means there's plenty to do, according to The Washington Post.
All of this, Schinas noted, has left traditional far-right opponents of immigration on the continent relatively muted about this large influx of Ukrainians, which for now seems to have caused minimal tension in the host countries.
But observers elsewhere are less impressed. The treatment of Ukrainians contrasts sharply with how Europe generally treats asylum seekers from other parts of the world. The low-key crisis triggered by the situation in Syria in 2015 left deep political scars on the continent, as EU member states argued over how to bear the burden of an influx of refugees, while the arrival of hundreds of thousands of non-white and non-Christian migrants ignited nationalist far-right sentiment across Europe.
Even last year, after the fall of the Afghan government in Kabul under the blows of the Taliban militants (the organization was recognized as a terrorist organization and banned in Russia), the statement of the EU interior ministers gave priority to preventing “illegal migration from the region” and “strengthening the capacity of border management” rather than protecting Afghans who have witnessed two decades of unsuccessful Western military adventure in their country, The Washington Post notes.
The Ukrainian conflict “revealed the ugly face of Europe. It showed their racism towards Arab and African immigrants despite all the human rights slogans,” Marwa El-Shinavi wrote in a column for Daily News Egypt, adding that European governments “seem to believe that protecting refugees is a right.” only Europeans and that other races are not human.”
Perhaps, writes The Washington Post, one of the clearest illustrations of this can be seen in Poland, whose right-wing nationalist government was furious at the prospect of resettling a handful of Syrian refugees, but opened its doors to millions of Ukrainians from neighboring homes. In 2015, “the refugees were black Muslims, and Warsaw slammed its borders,” wrote Andreas Kluth, former editor-in-chief of the German publication Handelsblatt Global. “Now they are Christian and Slavic brothers, and Poland has warmly welcomed more than half of the 6.7 million Ukrainians who fled abroad.”
Margaritis Schinas is aware of such criticism, but denies accusations of racism. For those who “in some way imply that skin color is a factor in European migration policy, let me be very clear. No, it's not like that,” he said.
The Brussels spokesman argued that the conflict in Ukraine – on the doorstep of the EU – is a unique circumstance that has set in motion a different legal mechanism than previous waves of migrants. The EU is protecting people who are fleeing conflict, he said: “This does not mean automatic entry for everyone who comes to the European Union.”
But Schinas added that the 2015 migration crisis was “a catalyst ”, which “inspired the European Union with a kind of belief that migration is a common problem.” Compared to seven years ago, the bloc has much more funding and capacity to curb the influx of migrants and monitor borders.
But regardless of the consensus around welcoming Ukrainians, the EU still lacks political unity to determine policy towards asylum seekers. Schinas believes that such a policy will soon appear, which will require unanimity among the 27 member states of the bloc.
Nevertheless, Schinas lamented, “there is still no migration policy in this Europe. It's sad in a way.”