The European Commission has proposed granting automatic temporary protection for up to three years to people fleeing the war in Ukraine. This would include a residence permit and access to employment and social welfare.
Under the proposal, made on Wednesday (March 2), refugees will get temporary protection as soon as the proposal is approved by EU interior ministers who will next meet on Thursday (March 3). The proposal has be agreed upon by a majority of at least 15 member states.
The protective measure includes access to housing and medical assistance and will be granted to war refugees without having to go through lengthy asylum procedures, reports Reuters.
The protection status can last for up to three years and can be extended by one more year, unless the situation in Ukraine stabilizes sufficiently for people to be able to return home. In this case, the scheme would end.
Rising refugee numbers
The urgent plan by the Commission is being rolled amid a the number of refugees fleeing Ukraine rising rapidly, surging to : The number of refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine has surged to 874,000 on day seven of the war, United Nations figures showed Wednesday (March 2). That marks a huge jump from the 677,000 announced a day before.
Around half of them have fled across the border into Poland. The vast majority of the rest have arrived in Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. All four countries are European Union member states.
According to UNHCR, an estimated one million people have already been displaced inside Ukraine. Many more people are expected to be displaced and flee the country.
"Europe stands by those in need of protection. All those fleeing Putin's bombs are welcome in Europe," European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement. "We will provide protection to those seeking shelter and we will help those looking for a safe way home," she said.
Is it valid for non-Ukrainians too?
If the 3-year protection scheme is approved, it would be the first time that the EU activated the 2001 "Temporary Protection Directive".
This 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. But it has never been used until now.
The scheme essentially means that everyone, independently of their nationality, is to be allowed to enter EU countries. The EU said the proposal would also cover "non-Ukrainian nationals and stateless people legally residing in Ukraine" such as asylum seekers.
However, those on short-term stays in Ukraine and who can safely go return to their country of origin will not be eligible. This will usually be the case for foreign students, a Commission official said, according to Reuters.
Crossing the border
The Commission's proposal also includes temporarily relaxing border controls to allow people from Ukraine to enter the EU even if they do not have a valid passport or visa. Under existing rules, Ukrainians with passports bearing biometric data are allowed to enter the EU without a visa and stay for up to three months.
Ukraine is also home to around 75,000 foreign students: Nearly a quarter of them are African -- with the largest numbers coming from Morocco, Egypt, Nigeria and Ghana, DW recently reported. Many of them study medicine, engineering and military affairs. As people began fleeing the invasion, social media reports circulated saying that some African nationals suffered discrimination when trying to leave Ukraine or get into the EU.
When asked about this by reporters, Commission officials said they had told border authorities that everyone should be let through. "We are making sure that there are safe passages for all who would like to cross the borders," European Council President Charles Michel said.
With AFP, Reuters