EU ministers activated temporary protection directive for Ukrainians

Gérald Darmanin, French minister for the Interior, at the press conference following Council's meeting. [European Union]

EU ministers unanimously agreed to offer temporary protection to refugees fleeing Ukraine during a meeting on Thursday (3 March), as a million have left the country.

The decision comes after more than a million people have left the country after Russia’s invasion, with up to another four million predicted to follow.

“We did reach an agreement, a historic agreement, that will allow the member states of the EU to grant individuals, fleeing from the Ukrainian conflict, temporary protection,” French Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, said at the press conference after Council’s meeting on Thursday. 

He added that “this is a firm commitment of the EU to show its solidarity with the Ukrainian people given this unjustified war”.

The Temporary Protection Directive has existed for 20 years, but it has never been used until now, Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, stressed.

She added that the unanimously adopted implementation of the directive shows “solidarity in the Council”. 

Ministers agreed to activate Council Directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001, which sets “minimum standards for giving temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons and on measures promoting a balance of efforts between the Member States in receiving such persons and bearing the consequences thereof,” as it is stated in Council’s press release.

Johansson stressed that refugees fleeing Ukraine “can work, they can get help with accommodation, children can go to school, there will be no waiting time here”. 

She highlighted that it was essential to adopt this directive urgently, as many children don’t have biometric passports. 

“That means that their status is not really the same all over the European Union. And we really need to regularise this so that they will be properly covered with this protection. They will have the right to go to school, they will have the right to health care and accommodation, and this will come with this temporary protection directive,” the commissioner said. 

This decision covers all refugees that arrived in the EU from 24 February, Johansson said. She added that “this is a floor”, as member states can be flexible and apply the Directive to Ukrainians already in the EU before 24 February.

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Who is eligible

In Darmanin’s words, the agreement means that “eligible people can enjoy protection similar to that of refugees in any member state of the EU for a whole year and this can be renewable”. 

Eligible people are “all Ukrainian nationals and their families as well as those people covered by international protection,” Darmanin clarified.

Johansson added that third-country nationals temporarily staying in Ukraine are not covered by the Temporary Protection directive. “But they are being helped out of Ukraine.”

“All of them are being very welcome to Europe, where they are immediately facilitated with accommodation, with clothes, with food. Then we reach out to the third countries where they are coming from, and they are now coming with planes to pick them up and to bring them home to safety,” Johansson commented on third-country nationals’ situation. 

As for third-country nationals, who have been resident for a long time in Ukraine will be covered as well, Darmanin said. In this case, the member states can either apply the temporary protection directive or the measures they’ve explicitly adopted for Ukraine under European law, the minister said.

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Making decisions fast

The decision on third-country nationals was changed from the Commission’s proposal. 

“The commission proposal says that third-country nationals that are long-term staying in Ukraine should be covered. Now, we say they should be covered by this temporary protection directive or by national legislation,” said Johansson

She added that as Russia’s invasion started “more or less one week” ago and extraordinary counsel happened four days ago, the Commission “didn’t have time to consult the member states, as we usually do before we make proposals”.

“So that was, of course, a situation where some member states wanted to make some adjustments in the proposal”, she said, adding that “the adjustments, if you compare to the Commission’s proposal, are not big”. 

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, in his tweet, called the agreement “unprecedented”. “It will provide protection to millions on the move,” he said, adding that “we encourage its swift and broad application”.

Asked about the application Darmanin said that the political agreement will be “officially” published on Friday (4 March).

By Thursday, Europe received “almost 1 million refugees from Ukraine,” Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, said, adding that “we’re gonna see millions more”. 

The United Nations estimates that more than four million Ukrainian refugees may need protection and assistance in neighbouring countries in the coming months.

“That is really why we need more solidarity and why we need this proper legislation to give the protection to people to give them the rights. And of course, we are also going to need additional fundings,” the commissioner said.

She added that “there are going to be challenges, we should not be naive about that”.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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