The European Union EU is trying to forge a common response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis and has proposed to activate – for the first time – a special directive that would grant temporary protection to all war refugees. What are the details?
Interior ministers of the EU met on Sunday, February 27, for an extraordinary meeting in Brussels to discuss its response and management of the developing refugee crisis in Ukraine.
In light of estimates from the United Nations that up to 7 million people could be seeking refuge as a result of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, EU ministers discussed the activation of an emergency measure, 'Council Directive 2001/55/EC', titled the "Temporary Protection Device in the event of mass influx of displaced persons".
Under its rules, displaced people from non-EU countries are granted immediate and temporary protection.
The protection directive was introduced in the wake of the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, when hundreds of thousands of refugees from Balkan countries arrived in the EU. It's meant to be applied when there are potentially so many asylum applications that their processing could overwhelm immigration authorities.
What's it about?
Under the directive, the standard asylum procedure would be suspended. Displaced persons are granted residency status without having to go through complex asylum procedures. The process is seen as a straight-forward and unbureaucratic way to receive large groups of people who "have fled areas of armed conflict or endemic violence" or "persons at serious risk of, or who have become the victims of, systematic or generalized violations of their human rights."
The directive also provides for the distribution of those refugees across EU member states, a controversial topic in the EU for years as countries like Poland and Hungary have continuously rejected a mandatory distribution mechanism. EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, however, said that the solidarity mechanism of the directive is based on a voluntary basis -- a fact that proponents of a fair EU-wide approach in turn criticize.
So far, the directive has never been used -- neither during the 2015/16 so-called refugee crisis nor following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, which also caused large-scale refugee flows to Europe.
Support by 15 member states needed
Voicing her support for the adoption of the directive, European Commissioner Ylva Johansson on Sunday (February 27) said: "In my view, I think it would be the right time to use the Temporary Protection Directive … to give the proper protection to people fleeing, and also the possibility to move in the European Union," she was quoted by Politico as saying.
French Interior Minister and Chair of the EU Council of Interior Ministers, Gerald Darmanin, the German interior minister Nancy Faeser as well as other member states representatives also supported the idea.
Faeser told reporters that refugees from Ukraine would be given temporary protection in the EU "for up to three years", Zeit Online reports.
The proposal will be decided on in a meeting of EU interior ministers on Thursday, March 3. At least 15 countries representing at least 65% of the EU population would have to agree for the procedure to be implemented.