EU welcomes ‘historic’ deal to protect Ukrainian refugees – POLITICO

The EU has agreed to offer immediate protection and rights to Ukrainians fleeing the war, invoking for the first time a 20-year-old power destined to offer shelter to refugees.

The quick and unanimous decision was remarkable considering migration has plagued and fractured the EU in the past.

A “historic decision” tweeted EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson, a sentimentality echoed by Belgian migration boss Sammy Mahdi.

calling the so-called Temporary Protection Policy will allow Ukrainians to move freely within the EU, give them immediate rights to live and work within the bloc, and also give them access to social benefits such as housing and medical care.

The measure also means Ukrainians will be granted temporary residency status without having to go through complex asylum procedures.

The unprecedented deal came about in record time. The clause activated on Thursday was only proposed on Sunday by the French EU Council Presidency. The European Commission then worked on a text, which it proposed on Wednesday before being unanimously approved on Thursday.

It is the first time that the EU has actually agreed to apply the refugee clause. The bloc created the option in 2001 after the Kosovo refugee crisis.

As of Thursday morning, it had not even been considered that the measure would be approved that day. EU home ministers were only expected to give their political seal of approval while officials continued to flesh out the text of the deal.

Instead, the EU ambassadors held an emergency meeting on Thursday afternoon, where they worked through differences in the text. And later the interior ministers were able to approve the finished product.

The rapid agreement stands in stark contrast to efforts on another migration issue, which have stalled for years: the EU asylum rules.

Since the Syrian migration wave in 2015, officials have attempted to overhaul the EU’s processing and distribution of asylum seekers. But deep disagreements between eastern and southern countries on the issue prevented the issue from moving forward.

A key reason for the quick action on Thursday is the desire for tangible results that show unity with Ukraine, Czech Interior Minister Vít Rakušan told POLITICO during a break in talks.

“It would be better for all of us to have a certain outcome of our discussion today,” he said. “It is really necessary to show that the EU is really united today.”

There is also an awareness of the historic magnitude of Ukraine’s refugee crisis, which is expected to far surpass the 1 million+ asylum seekers who reached the EU during the 2015-16 migration surge.

“We are in a very, very dangerous situation with developments in Ukraine, we have to prepare for millions of refugees coming to the European Union,” Johansson told reporters at the start of a meeting. “Already almost 1 million are here.”

The final protection agreement applies only to Ukrainian citizens and refugees. For other citizens fleeing the conflict, EU member states can choose to offer them EU status or national status.

The change was made at the request of Poland and several other countries.

Johansson downplayed the change, arguing that the unanimous decision on the final product was more important than the initial proposal being accepted by a so-called qualified majority.

She said non-Ukrainian citizens holding long-term residency permits in Ukraine should also continue to be covered.

But behind the euphoria at the quick decision, officials were concerned about the deepening humanitarian crisis and how it will affect countries hosting Ukrainians.

“Many colleagues here are talking about Poland, about Slovakia, but we as the Czech Republic are the real target country these days,” Rakušan said, citing figures of 5,000 migrant arrivals per day in his country, a number that usually covers a whole month.

“The difference is really huge,” he said. EU welcomes 'historic' deal to protect Ukrainian refugees - POLITICO

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