Is Ukraine a ‘migration threat’ to the EU?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Ultra sets fire. Ukraine, September 2015. [Aleksandr Osipov/Flickr]

Despite political unrest and internal conflict, Ukraine does not pose a “migration threat” to the EU and has implemented the measures that have been asked of it, write Iryna Sushko and Kateryna Kulchytska.

Iryna Sushko and Kateryna Kulchytska work for the Ukrainian think tank, Europe Without Barriers.

The EU is happy with Ukraine’s progress in implementing the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP) Ukrainian officials say. Indeed, at the end of August, Jean-Claude Juncker called the progress “enormous” and said that the Commission intends by the end of the year to propose visa liberalisation, but he warned that “the final decision has to be made by the member states”, according to EU Observer.

However, despite the view of the Commission chief, member states will be assessing the “migrant risk” from Ukraine in light of the current wave of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. In the present context, EURACTIV quotes Robert Visser, the director of the European Office of Asylum Support, who puts Ukraine among the “top six” of countries sending refugees to the EU. Is this accurate, and should European politicians block the prospect of a visa-free system for Ukrainians?

To clarify the situation, the “Europe without Barriers” think tank conducted its own research and is ready to present its findings and conclusions.

Implementing the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan coincides with the annexation of Crimea and the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine, which are all factors that make increased migration by Ukrainians into the EU more likely. However, the main route for Ukrainians from conflict areas seeking well-paid work and asylum is into Ukraine itself or the neighbouring countries of Russia and Belarus, not the EU.

We should remember that the Donbas people who were mostly affected by the conflict have a close historical connection with Russia, reinforced by a shared language. In addition, they still hope to return to their homes after the end of the conflict. In other words, from 2014 to 2015 15 times more asylum applicants were registered in the Russian Federation than in the entire EU. There is also a large intake of internal migrants in Ukraine (around 1.5 million registered IDPs). So it is no wonder that the conflict in the east of Ukraine has had little impact on the migration and refugee situation in the EU.

Around 14,000 Ukrainian asylum applications accounted only for 2.2% of the total amount in 2014 (mainly in Germany, Poland and France). So, actually Ukraine isn’t in the top six “suppliers of refugees” to the EU but instead is in a modest 12th place behind Russia and Serbia.

Ukrainian asylum applicants also have an additional “advantage” as Ukrainians applying for refugee status will, as a general principle, have their applications refused. For example, in the first half of 2015, 74% of applications from Ukrainians were rejected and only 5% of applicants received refugee status in the EU. In comparison, the probability of Syrian nationals being granted asylum is over 90%.

The fact is that Ukraine does not satisfy the requirements for asylum. Its citizens, including refugees from Donbas, can stay in Ukraine without any risk to their lives, because the area in which military operations are conducted covers less than 5% of the country. So there is no reason to give them asylum in the EU.

Indeed, a significant number of asylum applications from Ukrainians come from workers who are not fleeing conflict, but who want the right to work in wealthy European countries. The EU knows this, and is in no hurry to grant asylum to Ukrainians.

Moreover, the Ukrainian government is doing its best to manage a well-controlled zone isolating the territory occupied by the separatists. At the same time it runs a Local Border Traffic procedure with Poland, Slovakia and Hungary and has introduced modern biometric passports which are considered ICAO-compliant. All this helps to prevent and fight organised crime.

So politicians from the EU member states who will make a final decision about visa liberalisation for Ukraine should consider the verified data that confirms a relatively low level of Ukrainian asylum seekers. At the same time, officials should be strict when dealing with Ukrainians who want refugee status based on the war in Ukraine.

After the current assessment of the situation, it has been argued that a visa-free system providing short-term tourist trips for Ukrainians will not force IDPs and refugees who are settled in Ukraine and Russia to immediately leave their new homes for EU countries that speak another language.

Therefore, we in Ukraine claim that there is no migration threat from our country into the EU. After the successful implementation of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan, it would be fair to provide Ukraine with the visa-free system that was recently negotiated.  

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