Since last Thursday, February 24th, 2022, when Vladimir Putin’s Russian government decided to launch a military operation to invade Ukraine, hundreds of thousands of people have left their homes to flee to neighboring countries such as Poland, Hungary, Romania or Moldova. As of March 2nd, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that more than 1 million people have already crossed the external borders in the first week of the war. According to European Commission estimates, between 2.5 and 6.5 million Ukrainians may be displaced by the armed conflict, and between 1.2 and 3.2 million of them will apply for international protection.
Jesuit social organizations working with migrant and refugee populations have been following the events in Ukraine with particular concern. We join Pope Francis in expressing our sorrow for the “diabolical senselessness of violence” and in asking all parties to “refrain from any action that could cause further suffering”. The international cooperation entities (Alboan and Entreculturas) together with the Xavier Network have activated an emergency protocol to collaborate in the sustainability of the humanitarian programs that the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Europe and other entities of the Society of Jesus are carrying out, mobilizing resources worldwide to provide immediate support in Ukraine and neighboring.
The European Union’s response: advocating a welcoming response.
The European Commission has proposed the application of the Temporary Protection Directive to Ukrainian refugees, which would automatically grant them a residence and work authoritation in member states. The proposal has been approved by the EU on Thursday, March 3rd in Brussels.
We welcome the initial positive response of the EU Member States, determined to react as a Union and provide protection to people fleeing Ukraine and strongly support the proposal to activate the procedure to provide temporary protection in cases of peak influx of refugees, as foreseen by the Temporary Protection Directive.
We would like to stress that all persons fleeing the conflict in Ukraine should be able to leave the country, regardless of their nationality. Once they are safe, and in appropriate reception conditions, the protection needs of non-Ukrainian third country nationals can be assessed in accordance with existing procedures and the repatriation of those wishing to return to their countries of origin can and should be facilitated.
In addition to the immediate response, EU Member States should swiftly discuss and agree on a responsibility-sharing plan, including clear relocation measures, to ensure that the workload in Ukraine’s neighboring countries is kept under control and that EU protection standards and reception conditions can be guaranteed. Finally, it is also imperative to recognize the protection needs of Ukrainians who were already outside the country when the conflict began.
At the Spanish level: willingness to protect and dialogue between administrations and social entities.
The Spanish Government has committed itself “to be aligned with the decision to be taken by the Council of the European Union regarding the possible granting of temporary protection in the event of a massive influx of displaced persons and measures to promote an equitable effort among the Member States to receive such persons and to assume the consequences of their reception”. As stated in the institutional declaration of march 1st, “with regard to Ukrainian citizens living in Spain, the necessary measures will be taken to ensure that they can stay and work in our country, have access to health and educational care, as well as to the corresponding social assistance”.
The Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration has initiated the contacts and procedures to coordinate and prepare the device for the reception of people coming from Ukraine. In recent days, meetings have been held between the Ministry and the Autonomous Communities, with NGO’s that are part of the public system for the reception of refugees and with organizations of the Ukrainian community in Spain.
The action of JRS Europe and its national offices with the population fleeing Ukraine (communiqué of March 1st).
In Ukraine: helping those fleeing supporting internally displaced persons.
In Lviv, where JRS is present, the security situation remains relatively calm. Many people are arriving from other parts of Ukraine. Most intend to reach the Polish border and often need support or a place to spend the night on their way. The JRS refugee house, with a capacity of about 20 people, is currently being used used for that purpose. Also the Jesuit retreat house has immediately become a transit house for displaced personas.
In Romania: JRS in the front line.
Between February 24th and 28th, 70,000 people passed from Ukraine to Romania. Some 30,000 of them left quickly for other EU countries, while 28,000 chose to stay. At the moment, only a small minority officially applied for asylum seekers. Both the Romanian authorities and citizens are showing great enthusiasm for welcoming the people, although there is still a need to coordinate the various responses.
JRS in Romania is providing support both in the centers for asylum seekers along the borders and to people who are not in the centers, providing welcome packs, acting as a mediator between private donors, government organizations and people in need, supporting people to reach airports and train stations, providing accommodation in JRS’ own shelter and seeking further accommodation for people in need.
In Poland and Hungary: creating and supporting a reception infrastructure.
Poland is at the moment the country receiving the most arrivals of people from Ikraine. Many are staying with family and friends, as well as traveling to other EU countries. JRS is mobilizing to facilitate the transport of people from the borders, as well as to provide basic supplies and support people in search of temporary accommodation through rental assistance. Additional support in the form of legal, administrative and psychological assistance is being organized.
At the moment, Hungary is receiving a smaller number of people, including Hungarians who were living across the border in Ukraine. The government has expressed its willingness to support the refugees and the Hungarian population if reacting in a very welcoming manner. JRS has a small presence in the country and is currently assessing how best to be of service. Hungary is traditionally a transit country for refugees, but in this case, if the conflict persists, it is likely that many Ukrainians will want to stay. Therefore, JRS is already looking at medium-term support needs, such as long-term shelter support, alongside more immediate needs such as the provision of food and healthcare.
In Southeast Europe: preparing from the “second line”.
Taking into account the experience of the Crimean Crisis in 2014, JRS in Southeast Europe (Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, North Macedonia) is also preparing into receive some Ukrainian refugees if the conflict persists. The contingency plan is prepared, including the search for possible accommodation in families, parishes and Jesuit houses. Relevant contacts are being established with government authorities and municipalities, such as the city of Zagreb in Croatia, to be prepared with a hospitality-based response in case of need.