WASHINGTON – The Russian invasion of Ukraine has displaced tens of thousands of people from their homes and fled across borders to escape violence. But unlike the refugees who have flooded Europe in crises over the past decade, they are welcomed.
Countries that have resisted taking refugees from wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan for years are now opening their doors to Ukrainians as Russian forces launch a nationwide military strike. Perhaps 100,000 Ukrainians have already left their homes, according to United Nations estimates, and at least half of them have crammed onto trains, blocked highways or walked across national borders in what officials say could become the world’s next refugee crisis. .
UN and US officials described their joint diplomatic pressure on Ukraine’s neighbors and other European countries to respond to the eruption of emergency. President Biden “definitely is willing” to take in refugees from Ukraine, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday, but noted that the majority of them would likely choose to stay in Europe so they could be more easily accommodated. able to return home once the fighting ended.
“Sincere thanks to the governments and people of countries that keep their borders open and welcome refugees,” said Filippo Grandi, the head of the United Nations Refugee Agency. He warned that “many more” Ukrainians were moving to the borders.
That means thousands will end up in countries led by nationalist governments that in past crises have been reluctant to receive or even block refugees.
In Poland, government officials, assisted by US soldiers and diplomats, have set up processing centers for: Ukrainians† “Anyone fleeing bombs, from Russian guns, can count on the support of the Polish state,” Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski told reporters on Thursday. His government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a border wall, a project it started after refugees and migrants from the Middle East tried to reach the country last year but became trapped in neighboring Belarus.
The military in Hungary allows Ukrainians through parts of the border that were closed. Hungary’s inflexible Prime Minister Viktor Orban has previously called refugees a threat to his country, and his government has been accused of locking them up and starving them.
Further west, Chancellor Karl Nehammer of Austria said that “of course we will take in refugees if necessary” in light of the crisis in Ukraine. Last fall, while still interior minister, Nehammer tried to block some Afghans seeking refuge after the Taliban overthrew the government in Kabul.
“It is different in Ukraine than in countries like Afghanistan,” he said during an interview on a national TV program. “We’re talking about community help.”
Mr Nehammer also said that the number of Ukrainians seeking help is expected to be relatively small. At least 1.3 million people – mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – sought asylum in Europe in 2015 during what was widely regarded as the worst refugee crisis since World War II, stretching national budgets and triggering a backlash of political nativism in countries around the world. continent.
According to some estimates, at least one million refugees will flee Ukraine because of the Russian invasion. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said last week that the fighting could uproot as many as five million people, “putting pressure on Ukraine’s neighbors”.
Diplomats and experts said European states willing to take in Ukrainians may, in part, try to highlight Russia’s aggression against civilians by offering a humanitarian response. “If you think of creating the refugee crisis as one of Putin’s tools to destabilize the West, a calm, efficient and orderly response to it is a very good rebuke,” Serena Parekh, a professor at Northeastern University, said in a statement. Boston and the director. of his program for politics, philosophy and economics.
“On the other hand,” said Ms Parekh, who has written extensively about refugees, “it is hard not to see that Ukrainians are white, mainly Christians and Europeans. So in a way the xenophobia that has really emerged in the last 10 years, especially after 2015, is not playing into this crisis the way it has been for refugees from the Middle East and Africa.”
The Biden administration is also facing calls to take in Ukrainian refugees, just as it granted more than 75,000 Afghans residency permits or humanitarian parole when the Taliban took power in August.
It is unlikely, at least right now, that the United States would offer a humanitarian parole program for Ukrainians beyond what is currently allowed for the total number of refugees admitted for the current fiscal year. That number has been capped at 125,000 this year, including 10,000 refugees from Europe and Central Asia. The guidelines reserve an additional 10,000 places for refugees from all parts of the world, depending on regional emergencies.
Ms. Psaki did not comment on a reporter’s question whether the administration would offer temporary residency protection, a program known as TPS, to Ukrainian students, workers and others who are in the United States to ensure they are not deported when their legal visas have expired.
Understand the Russian attack on Ukraine
What is the basis of this invasion? Russia considers Ukraine to be within its natural sphere of influence, and it has become nervous about Ukraine’s proximity to the West and the prospect of the country becoming a member of NATO or the European Union. Although Ukraine is part of neither, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
“The war in Ukraine is exactly the kind of crisis TPS was created for — to enable people to live and work in the United States when they can’t return home safely,” Senator Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and United States Democrat Senator Bob Menendez chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, said on Thursday night†
Ms Psaki said the United States had sent an estimated $52 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine in the past year to help people, mainly in the eastern Donbas region, where the current war started as a slow-burning conflict between the Ukrainian military and the Russian army. supported separatists in 2014. Nearly 1.5 million people had been displaced from their homes in the last week by the fighting.
In addition, the US Agency for International Development last week sent a team of disaster experts to Poland to assess the demand for aid to the region — including water, food, shelter, medicines and other supplies — and coordinate its delivery. Hours after the invasion began, the United Nations announced it would spend $20 million in emergency funds on humanitarian aid to Ukrainians, mainly to the Donbas region.
A European diplomat closely monitoring the flow of refugees from Ukraine said neighboring countries may also feel the pull of history to welcome people in danger as a direct result of Russia’s aggression. For example, a Soviet Union crackdown on a Hungarian uprising in 1956 resulted in 200,000 refugees, most of whom fled to Austria before settling in dozens of countries across Europe. Between 80,000 and 100,000 people – and perhaps even more than that – left what was then Czechoslovakia to escape a Soviet invasion in 1968 launched to silence the pro-democracy protests of the Prague Spring.
In both cases, the United States sent aid to help European countries receive refugees and, in the Hungarian crisis, “within months there were no more refugees – they had found a permanent home,” Ms Parekh said.
That was largely the result of the United States’ cooperation with European states to resettle the Hungarians, she said, calling the effort “historically” an exception.
“It was something similar – people fleeing from our Russian enemy – that motivated us,” she said.