EU needs ‘fair burden-sharing’ to take in refugees from Ukraine – official

FILE PHOTO: People fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine in Przemysl
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian refugees walk onto the train platform after arriving from Odessa at the Przemysl Glowny railway station after fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Przemysl, Poland March 21, 2022.REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

March 23, 2022

By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union countries will start discussing “fair burden-sharing” in taking in millions of refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the bloc’s top migration official said on Wednesday.

The EU will not allocate a number of refugees that each country must take, she said, to avoid a repeat of the failure during the last major influx of refugees in 2015-16, when the 27 member states bitterly bickered over who should take in how many millions who fled the war in Syria.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said the bloc’s 27 national migration ministers would discuss “fair burden-sharing” at emergency talks on Monday. “It has to be developed,” she said at a press conference.

Russia’s invasion has driven about 3.5 million refugees to the EU in just one month, a bloc of 450 million people. About half of those who have arrived so far are children and the vast majority of the rest are women, according to the EU. Healthy Ukrainian men have been banned from leaving the country to help fight Russian forces.

The EU quickly opened its borders to Ukrainian refugees, granting them residency and freedom of movement rights, as well as access to schools, medical care, housing and the labor market.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that the arrival of 3 million refugees could result in an initial annual direct cost of at least 0.25% of EU GDP and much more in the major host countries.

The refugees have mostly arrived in EU neighbors Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary, but Johansson said about two million in the bloc have already moved further west.

She said the EU executive commission had started compiling an index to weigh the relative impact on each member state, taking into account population size, the number of Ukrainian refugees on its soil and the number of asylum seekers received in the last year.

She said Poland faces the biggest challenge, followed by Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Estonia, all of which are much smaller and less populated.

The Commission has proposed to use unused funds from the previous budget of the 2014-20 bloc to accommodate refugees from Ukraine. On Wednesday, it committed 3.5 billion euros ($3.85 billion) from joint spending planned for 2021-27.

“The initial costs are manageable for the EU as a whole, but difficult to bear – and to provide – for individual neighboring countries,” says an OECD report. “Burden sharing and EU support to key host countries would allow for more effective delivery of support.”

Dubravka Suica, EU Commissioner for Democracy and Demography, said that in less than a month of war Poland had taken in about a million Ukrainian children, almost three times the usual annual birth rate there.

“More than 1.5 million children have crossed the border into the EU. A demographic change is taking place on European soil,” she said at the press conference.

($1 = 0.9100 euros)

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Mark Heinrich) EU needs ‘fair burden-sharing’ to take in refugees from Ukraine – official

Bobby Allyn

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