EU needs 'fair burden sharing' to host Ukraine refugees -official

3 minute read

Ukrainian refugees walk on the platform after arriving from Odesa at Przemysl Glowny train station, after fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Przemysl, Poland, March 21, 2022.REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

BRUSSELS, March 23 (Reuters) - European Union countries will start discussing "fair burden sharing" in hosting millions of refugees from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the bloc's top migration official said on Wednesday.

The EU will not allocate a number of refugees each country must take, she said, avoiding a repeat of failures during the last major refugee influx in 2015-16 when the 27 member states squabbled bitterly over who should take in how many refugees among the one million who had fled the war in Syria.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said "fair burden-sharing" would be addressed by the bloc's 27 national migration ministers at emergency talks on Monday. "It needs to be developed," she told a news conference.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Russia's invasion has driven some 3.5 million refugees into the EU, a bloc of 450 million people, in just one month. About half of arrivals so far are children and the vast majority of the rest are women, the EU says. Able-bodied Ukrainian men were banned from leaving the country to help fight Russian forces.

The EU swiftly opened its borders to Ukrainian refugees, granting them residence and the right to free movement, and access schools, medical care, housing and labour market.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimated the arrival of 3 million refugees could result in an initial annual direct cost of at least 0.25% of EU GDP, and much more in the major host economies.

The refugees have arrived mostly in Ukraine's EU neighbours Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary but Johansson said about two million have already moved further westwards in the bloc.

She said the EU's executive European Commission had begun compiling an index to weigh the relative effect on each member state, taking into account the size of its population, the number of Ukrainian refugees on its soil and the number of asylum seekers received last year.

She said Poland was facing the most formidable challenge, followed by Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Estonia, all much smaller in size and population.

The Commission has proposed spending funds unused from the bloc's previous 2014-20 budget on hosting refugees from Ukraine. On Wednesday it made 3.5 billion euros ($3.85 billion) available from joint spending planned in 2021-27.

"The initial costs are manageable for the EU as a whole, but difficult to support - and deliver - by individual neighbouring countries," an OECD report said. "Burden sharing and EU support to the major host countries would allow support to be delivered more effectively."

Dubravka Suica, EU Commissioner for Democracy and Demography, said that in less than a month of war, Poland had received about one million Ukrainian children, nearly triple the usual annual number of births there.

"Over 1.5 million children have crossed the border to the EU. There is a demographic shift happening on the European soil," she told the news conference.

($1 = 0.9100 euros)

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska Editing by Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.