Statement to European Parliament on the Ukraine refugee situation and the EU's response

UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Operations, Raouf Mazou, addressed EU lawmakers from the European Parliament's Committee on Development and Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

Excellencies, honourable chairs and honourable members of the European Parliament, distinguished guests,

Thank you for this opportunity to brief you today.

I have just arrived in Romania and I am speaking to you from Galati, at the border with Moldova and Ukraine. In the few hours that I have been in the country, I have witnessed the generosity that has characterized the response to the Ukraine crisis. Deep appreciation must be expressed for the support and solidarity shown to Ukrainians in need.

The decision by the European Council to swiftly trigger – for the first time – the Temporary Protection Directive offers refugees access to a clear legal status, protection, work, education and services at a time of great upheaval. The priority is now to ensure a swift implementation of the TPD.

We also welcome the European Commission’s communication “to further support people fleeing Ukraine”, harnessing expertise, coordination and funding, and we encourage Member States to take forward these measures.

The pledges made by several EU Member States to transfer refugees from Moldova to their territory, under the auspices of the EU Solidarity Platform, is another concrete expression of solidarity. Within this initiative, UNHCR is identifying vulnerable people in Moldova, providing the technical advice requested by the receiving States, and informing refugees on what to expect upon arrival – including reception capacity and overall conditions – so they can make informed decisions. 

The humanitarian spirit and solidarity shown so strongly these past weeks must be extended to all those escaping the violence, including to the vulnerable and marginalized groups, and citizens from other countries who were residing in Ukraine. There cannot be double-standards, discrimination or discretion in respecting the rights of refugees, and anyone in need of international protection at a country’s borders should be allowed access to territory for the purpose of seeking asylum and not be placed in detention. And let us not forget about other refugees in distress reaching Europe at other borders. Their right to asylum must also be upheld.

Honourable Chairs,

As we are meeting today, the number of refugees who fled into neighbouring countries has surpassed 4.2 million. An additional 6.5 million are estimated to be displaced within Ukraine, and a further 13 million people stranded in affected areas. The humanitarian needs inside Ukraine are immense, and growing by the day.

Within Ukraine, we have adapted our operational presence, relocating offices and supplies to the western and central parts of the country while maintaining a footprint in Kyiv as well as in Donetsk and Luhansk non-government-controlled areas.

We work closely with local authorities to set up and expand reception capacities for internally displaced people in safe areas of the country and transit locations, and are coordinating the provision of key protection services, including legal aid, psychosocial support, child protection and gender-based violence case management.

We are also focusing our response on emergency shelter, cash assistance and provision of core relief items, under the overall leadership of the government and in coordination with the entire United Nations system. Our cash assistance program aims to reach 360,000 people with US$80 million worth of support over an initial period of three months to complement the Government’s own social assistance program.

In neighbouring countries, the response is coordinated through the refugee coordination model led by UNHCR, in support of national and local authorities and in close partnership with many other actors. We have significantly strengthened our staffing to address the current situation. Close to 200 colleagues are now on the ground, with more being deployed to support.

Along with our partners, we are conducting regular protection monitoring at the main border crossing points, transit and reception centres and through hotlines. We are also working to ensure that those arriving from Ukraine have access to information through preferred channels and feedback mechanisms.

Given that over 90 per cent of refugees are women and children, the risks of gender-based violence and other forms of exploitation are high. We have strengthened our action towards the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse, including through the deployment of expert coordinators to support the Government response in the main refugee-hosting countries. In partnership with UNICEF, we have established safe spaces called “Blue Dots” at main border crossings points, transit and reception centres to provide assistance, information and specialized support as needed by mothers, children and other vulnerable refugees.

In collaboration with the governments, we have launched multi-purpose transitional cash programmes in Moldova and in Poland. Until they are included in national social protection schemes, this cash assistance empowers refugees to make their own decision about how to cover their needs and provides them with protection and a critical safety net at a time of great uncertainty. It must, however, be underlined, that these host countries will need support to include refugee populations in their national systems in the long run.

This response has been made possible by the generous support we have received from donors, neighbouring countries, and private individuals from around the world. The EU’s long-standing financial support to UNHCR as well as its rapid mobilization of flexible funds for Ukraine and all asylum countries are vital – especially as the emergency continues unabated.

At the same time, as we respond to the emergency in Ukraine, we cannot lose sight of the many other crises and protracted refugee situations around the world, for which the EU must remain a steadfast partner in the search for protection and solutions.

Thank you.