The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said this past weekend that Russia’s brutal invasion of the independent nation of Ukraine has sparked the most rapidly growing refugee crisis in roughly 80 years.
“More than 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine have crossed into neighbouring countries in 10 days—the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II,” tweeted Filippo Grandi on Sunday. U.N. data published that same day indicated even higher numbers, at 1.7 million.
The prior day, he’d tweeted that he saw “thousands and thousands of people” seeking refuge in Moldova. “Thousands of stories of separation, anguish, and loss,” he wrote. “A difficult day, but much respect for the many dedicated Moldovan officials and people helping the refugees.”
Per U.N. data, the vast majority of Ukrainian refugees, more than 1 million, have fled to Poland. 180,000 have fled to Hungary, nearly 130,000 to Slovakia, more than 82,000 to Moldova, nearly 79,000 to Romania, and 53,000 to Russia. “Officials said many of the refugees who had arrived in other countries had friends and places to go to, but Grandi said the growing tide of refugees would put pressure on governments to absorb them,” The Guardian reported.
“These governments have done very well in their initial response,” he said in the report. “They were well prepared. But if the numbers continue to grow it will be a problem.”
The Biden administration last week announced that it would be designating Ukraine for Temporary Protected Status, which could shield as many as 75,000 from deportation to imminent harm. But that status protects only Ukrainians who are already here. Refugee resettlement leaders have said the U.S. must “lead by example,” and “rebuild and streamline the refugee program’s processing capacity to prepare for this new humanitarian emergency.”
During an CNN interview this past weekend, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked if the U.S. was willing to accept Ukrainian refugees.
“Of course, we’ll look at that,” Blinken responded, saying “the United States is committed to doing anything we can, first of all, to support the countries that are bearing the immediate burden of taking in Ukrainians. And then as appropriate, if people seek refugee status in the United States, of course, we will look at that and I’m sure act on that.”
But some refugees fleeing Ukraine have been met with hostility. Numerous reports and advocates have noted racist treatment faced by Black, south Asian, and Mediterranean refugees attempting to flee Ukraine, which has since been acknowledged by the U.N. “There should be absolutely no discrimination between Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians, Europeans and non-Europeans,” Grandi said. “Everybody is fleeing from the same risks.”
The U.N. and UNICEF in a joint statement also raised concerns about unaccompanied minors who have fled their homes, or become separated from their families amid the invasion. “Children without parental care are at a heightened risk of violence, abuse and exploitation,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell and Grandi said. “When these children are moved across borders, the risks are multiplied.”
“States should offer safe spaces for children and families immediately following border crossings, and link these to national child protection systems,” they continued. “The current emergency also necessitates rapidly expanding the capacity of emergency care arrangements with screened caregivers as well as other critical services for the protection of children, including against gender-based violence, as well as family tracing and reunification mechanisms.”
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