Ideas on Europe

Temporary protection - Kathryn Cassidy

© European Union 2022 - Source : EP Temporary protection - Kathryn Cassidy
© European Union 2022 - Source : EP

Each week on euradio a member of the international academic association ‘UACES’ will address a current topic linked to their research.

 Kathryn Cassidy, You are professor at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, and currently working on a project analysing the response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis, especially with regard to the “Temporary Protection Directive”.

That’s correct. As a quick reminder, the European Union introduced the Temporary Protection Directive in 2001, following the wars in the former Yugoslavia. However, it was never triggered before March 2022, after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Can you quickly recall the number of persons concerned by this “Temporary Protection”?

At the end of September this year, there were almost 4.2 million non-EU citizens, who fled Ukraine as a consequence of the Russian invasion and who benefited from temporary protection status in EU countries. 98% of the beneficiaries were Ukrainian citizens. Adult women made up almost half (46.5%) of them. Children accounted for slightly more than one-third (33.7%), while adult men comprised less than a fifth (19.9%) of the total.

And on 28 September 2023, the European Council agreed to extend the temporary protection for people fleeing from Russia’s war of aggression until March 2025.

Is it possible to call this action a success?

Yes, absolutely. The implementation of the Temporary Protection Directive is considered an example of how governments, local communities, civil society and ordinary citizens can work together in a relatively successful way to accommodate and support a large-scale sudden influx of forcibly displaced persons.

At the same time, it’s a complex task. The Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, was proud to announce on the 2nd of March 2022 that the EU would be granting protection “without going through lengthy formalities at the borders”, as well as “residency rights, labour market access and housing to people in need”, but that’s quite a challenge for some of the member states concerned.

Not every member state is in the same position with regard to guaranteeing these rights immediately.

Obviously not. Efforts to support people fleeing Ukraine were dependent on a wide range of government, non-governmental and community actors. Which means that Directive was implemented unevenly between and within EU member states.

Our current research project, supported by the “UK in a Changing Europe” network, focuses on the responses in two member states, Poland and Romania, who are neighbours of Ukraine, as well as in the UK. And at a recent workshop, we got colleagues together who were working on the aspects of the displacement of people from Ukraine in a number of EU countries.

What are the findings of this ongoing research?

What became apparent at the workshop was the disorderly and uneven pace of the implementation of the Directive. In each member-state, the Directive had to be implemented in law, and much of this legislation has needed further amendments and revisions.

And the whole effort has not been without tensions. The treatment of people fleeing Ukraine has undoubtedly been influenced by an already existing hostility towards refugees and asylum seekers, a kind of hostility which many people from Ukraine have had to navigate on a day-to-day basis, especially those housed in so-called hosting arrangements. Labour migrants from Ukraine who had already settled in parts of the EU, for instance in Italy or Poland, in the 1990s and 2000s have played a vital role in supporting newer arrivals, but this has led to tensions too.

What indication do we have of how things might develop going forward?

In addition, as time has gone by and the duration of the Directive has been extended to March 2025, public support in a number of EU countries has reduced. Recent surveys show that declared aspirations of return among Ukrainian refugees in the EU are still high, but gradually decreasing. The level of actual planning for return is low.

The question remains for the EU of what to do with temporary protection holders after March 2025? Will these discussions form part of Ukraine’s accession talks with the EU? Will the EU try to adopt a Union-wide framework for the treatment of temporary protection holders to prevent inconsistencies and further displacement? As yet, there has been little indication from Brussels as to what the next move might be.

Many thanks, Kathryn Cassidy, for sharing your research and these open questions with us. I recall you are Professor at the University of Northumbria, in Newcastle, in the UK.