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EU debates granting temporary protection to refugees from Ukraine

EU interior ministers are trying to forge a common response to the developing refugee crisis as thousands of Ukrainians flee their country amid the invasion by Russia.

At an extraordinary meeting in Brussels Sunday afternoon, the ministers are being asked to evaluate several proposals on humanitarian aid, migration, cyber attacks and crisis management, according to a document seen by POLITICO.

One of the key questions for ministers is a suggestion “to examine the implementation of an adapted temporary protection device” to respond to the current crisis.

The EU has at its disposal a Temporary Protection Directive, introduced in the wake of the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s, but which has never been used. There were calls to trigger the 2001 directive last summer during the chaotic Western withdrawal from Afghanistan, which left thousands of Afghans stranded.

One reason for the reluctance of some member states to trigger the mechanism is that it is seen by some as a possible step toward a mandatory relocation system — an idea previously rejected by countries like Poland and Hungary.

Arriving at the meeting, European Commissioner Ylva Johansson said she supported the adoption of the directive, and was prepared to bring forward a proposal from the Commission. “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 said. “This is something that will be discussed today, and I will of course listen to the different member states.”

Asked if he supported triggering the 2001 Temporary Protection Directive as he arrived for Sunday’s meeting, Sweden’s Minister for Integration Anders Ygeman noted that it was not a “magic wand.”

“I think that this could be an option,” Ygeman said. “I’m not against trying that option but you also have to remember that this isn’t a magic wand, it’s still voluntary … I think to tackle this kind of situation we need binding rules in the EU … solidarity that is bound by real decisions.”

Ygeman also said it was time for a common approach from the EU on migration. 

“I want to urge all the countries in the European Union to take their responsibility in this crisis,” he said as he arrived at the meeting. “There have been certain countries that have been reluctant to be part of the migration pact, and there are some countries that have been reluctant to have a solidarity mechanism in the EU and I think this situation points out the importance of such a mechanism.”

According to the United Nations, at least 368,000 Ukrainians have arrived in neighboring countries since the Russian invasion started, with long queues being reported at Ukraine’s borders with countries like Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Moldova.

The document under consideration and prepared by the French presidency of the Council of the EU also says that, should arrivals increase, “support for neighboring countries to carry out their border control and registration missions could be offered” through EU agencies like Frontex and Europol.

All EU countries “are called upon to respond to the best of their abilities to requests for assistance from the Ukrainian authorities,” when it comes to humanitarian assistance, the document also notes.

The Council presidency also notes that the Ukrainian government has requested assistance via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and “the initial aid offered by seventeen Member States in this context mainly includes hygiene and medical equipment, as well as accommodation capacity (tents, blankets, etc.).” Moldova has also asked “for accommodation assistance,” it says.



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