Europe’s solidarity must extend to all and prevent more people from becoming undocumented

Europe’s solidarity must extend to all and prevent more people from becoming undocumented

As the number of people fleeing Ukraine continues to increase, PICUM, the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, wishes to express its solidarity with all people who are affected by this situation.

The swift adoption of the EU Temporary Protection Directive is a positive measure and a first in history, which will hopefully contribute to setting new standards for a more humane response to international crises. However, we regret the limited scope of this instrument and underline that everyone who is affected by the conflict should be able to access protection, independent of their nationality and administrative status.

According to IOM estimates, before the conflict there were between 37,700 to 60,900 undocumented people living in Ukraine. It is essential that Ukraine and EU member states ensure that they are able to safely leave Ukraine and, once in the EU, have access to protection and a residence permit if they wish to remain.

In addition, non-Ukrainians and stateless people who had to leave Ukraine are having difficulties accessing temporary residence permits, for instance in Belgium, putting them at risk of becoming undocumented in the EU. Everyone who cannot safely return to their country of origin should have access to rights and protection. This is a general rule and the only way to ensure the respect of international law including the principle of non-refoulement.  Europe should protect and help all the people who were living in Ukraine at the beginning of the war, independent of whether they had a residence permit.

Many Ukrainian people have been living in the European Union since before the outbreak of the conflict – some for a short time, and some for years. They have worked in different professions, done essential work including during the pandemic, and are crucial to many sectors of our economies. Nonetheless, many Ukrainians in the EU have a precarious or irregular migration status, and despite the direct impact of the conflict on their lives, are excluded from the Temporary Protection Directive’s scope. Access to secure residence permits is fundamental when one’s country is affected by war. PICUM welcomes Spain’s commitment to extend the EU’s temporary protection status both to undocumented Ukrainians living in Spain before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as to foreigners who had been living in Ukraine with short-term visas who are not covered by the EU’s temporary protection directive. We hope that more countries will follow this example. As EU member states can decide to enact higher protection standards than the Temporary Protection Directive (either by granting the temporary protection status to those not covered by it or by granting other national permits), it is essential to ensure that people who would be able to benefit from these permits can move safely from EU countries bordering Ukraine to other EU member states to reach the protection they need.

Some people left Ukraine shortly before the outbreak, either for personal or work reasons, or to flee from a rapidly degenerating conflict. There is no reason why they should be excluded from the scope of the Temporary Protection Directive, and we encourage EU Member States to make use of this possibility as foreseen by recital 14.

We strongly condemn all instances of racism at the borders and in the EU territory, which once again shows that the EU still has a lot to do to fulfil its commitments under the recent Anti-Racism Action Plan. PICUM calls for a full and independent investigation into all reports of racial discrimination, antigypsyism and discrimination based on administrative status, accountability for those acts and reparation.

Over the past weeks, people from all countries bravely stood in solidarity with people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, providing shelter, lifts, support, and doing essential humanitarian work. While these actions have been rightly celebrated, similar actions of solidarity to migrants from other countries are still being penalized and criminalized across the EU – further showing the contradiction and racist biases of the current approach to migration. PICUM calls for policy makers to uphold the universal value of solidarity – as is currently being extended across the EU to migrants of different origins and nationalities – and to abolish any acts or policies which criminalise migration and assistance to migrants.

PICUM will continue monitoring the developments related to the crisis in Ukraine, with a specific focus on:

  • Undocumented Ukrainians in the EU;
  • People who were living with irregular migration status in Ukraine before the conflict;
  • Non-Ukrainians who fled and risk becoming undocumented within the EU;
  • Advocating for smooth status transition – if it may at some point become necessary – for people currently benefitting from the Temporary Protection Directive who may lose this protection, in order to prevent people from becoming undocumented.

Cover: Mathias P.R. Reding – Pexels