THE UKRAINIAN REFUGEE CRISIS AND ITS IMPLICATIONS ON EUROPE
Federica Calissano, Pètra van de Gevel, Benjamin Brooks, EUCOM Team
Week of Monday, March 7, 2022
Woman with a child at the Polish train station Przemyśl after fleeing Ukraine
On Thursday, February 24, 2022, Russian forces started the invasion of Ukraine by attacking the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Kherson with missile and air raids. In the following days, the fighting in the cities between Russian and Ukrainian forces intensified, with hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing Ukraine. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is causing one of the largest European refugee movements, with more than two and a half million people estimated to have already fled Ukraine by entering neighboring countries. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has estimated that four million people will attempt to leave the country in the upcoming weeks and months, with the majority of them being women and children. Ukrainian refugees will very likely continue to flee to neighboring countries, such as Poland, which already welcomed one and a half million Ukrainians, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, and Slovakia. Many Western European countries, such as England, Ireland, France, Italy, and Germany, will very likely face an increase in the numbers of Ukrainian refugees. The fast-paced movement of refugees from Ukraine will very likely cause the biggest refugee and humanitarian crisis of the 21st century. The Ukrainian refugee crisis is very likely a major concern for European countries, as it will very likely have profound effects on Europe’s political climate, economy, and security.
The EU modified its immigration rules to accept Ukrainian refugees without immigration documentation, to mitigate a humanitarian crisis and reduce refugees’ time on the borders with neighboring countries. Ukrainian refugees have been dying of hypothermia and heart attacks after waiting in extreme weather conditions up to 60 hours to cross, for instance, the Medyka border, the main Ukrainian border with Poland. Without blankets, medicines, and food, the health of many Ukrainian refugees will very likely deteriorate, especially that of those who have pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes, or need special assistance due to pre-existing physical impairments, such as disabled individuals. Poor reception conditions on the Ukrainian border with Poland will almost certainly worsen without additional resources for new Ukrainian refugees. Medical staff on the borders will very unlikely be able to support all the refugees requiring medical help, as almost all refugees will very likely be experiencing dehydration, malnourishment, and hypothermia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky enforced the general mobilization of the population, prohibiting men between 18 and 60 years old to leave the country, asking them to join the military forces protecting Ukraine. The majority of refugees will almost certainly be women, children, the elderly, and disabled persons. It is also almost certain that, with the majority of male citizens staying in Ukraine, many families will be separated. Becoming a refugee has profound implications on refugees’ mental health, with integration being essential for refugees’ mental well-being. Being separated from their families, without knowing where their relatives are, and facing uncertainty regarding their future in the host countries will almost certainly worsen refugees’ mental well-being. Refugees will also very likely face integration struggles in the host countries. Without integration and mental health support, refugees will very likely develop mental disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorders or depression. This will likely cause resentment against the host country, as refugees will likely feel unwelcome. Ukrainian refugees’ mental health will likely worsen due to interrupted psychological support and psychiatric treatment.
People of color claimed to have been discriminated against at the Ukrainian borders by Polish border guards, reporting ill-treatment, such as pointing guns at them, which has later been confirmed by the United Nations (UN). Discrimination will likely cause conflict between border guards and refugees. Racial discrimination of Ukrainian refugees will likely cause aggression towards border guards to attempt to ensure entry, very likely posing a threat to all present parties, including humanitarian workers. If refugees are discriminated against and denied entry to Poland, some will likely attempt to cross the border irregularly. This could likely lead to injuries or refugees getting lost, as they will likely be traveling in unfamiliar territory without State assistance. The UN will likely provide medical assistance to irregular migrants, and will likely organize search parties for missing refugees.
Reports suggest Ukrainian refugees have been attacked and racially abused by Polish nationals due to fake reports of refugees committing violent crimes in Poland. These attacks will likely continue if anti-refugee misinformation continues to spread online. Refugees will very likely face verbal abuse and discrimination from some sections of the Polish population, likely leading to refugees’ distrust. This will very likely widen the division between the refugees and the local population, likely fueling anti-refugee rhetoric. Anti-refugee Polish nationals will likely share the misinformation online to other countries, such as Slovakia, to gain support, likely causing a rise in attacks against refugees.
Ukrainian refugees reported they have been targeted by smugglers offering them safe passage out of Ukraine in exchange for a high amount of money. To avoid the possibility of being injured or killed in the conflict, refugees are likely to pay high amounts of money to flee Ukraine quickly. The risk of human trafficking can increase after conflict-induced displacement. Refugees will likely continue to be targeted by criminal or terrorist organizations as it is unlikely they are familiar with the host country’s criminal justice system and language. Ukrainian refugees are likely to be targeted by criminal organizations for human trafficking as they have been displaced and are in a vulnerable position. Women and children, in particular, are targets for trafficking. Young women traveling alone are likely to be targeted by criminal organizations. The rise of human trafficking will likely increase sexual exploitation and forced labor. Refugees are likely to develop resentment towards the host country for not preventing human trafficking, likely leading to anti-refugee sentiment within the local population.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict will almost certainly cause increasing economic difficulties in the EU. Economic difficulties will almost certainly be a result of the sanctions that the EU imposed on Russia and Belarus, such as cutting off the supply of potash, which is a key ingredient for agricultural fertilizers, and of the sanctions the EU is threatening to impose on Russia, such as cutting off Russian gas supplies. Cutting off Russian gas supplies will almost certainly result in rising gas prices across Europe. This will likely result in people not being able to go to work and provide for their families. Prices of wheat, other grains, and food in general will very likely increase, making it likely people in Europe will stockpile food. This will very likely result in empty stocks in supermarkets, likely causing food shortages. The conflict in Ukraine already affected the Euro currency, falling four percent against the dollar and Swiss franc in two weeks. This development will very likely result in inflation across Europe, making it very likely European households will face difficulties with buying necessities.
In 2015, Europe experienced a refugee crisis as a result of regional instability in the Middle East, and in 2021, Afghan nationals fled their country after the Taliban seized power. Europe will almost certainly face a new refugee crisis in 2022 as a result of the Ukrainian refugee influx to the EU. The refugee influx will very likely reopen social divisions over how to deal with refugees in Europe. Eastern EU countries, such as Poland and Hungary, will very likely experience increasing polarization within their societies as they are currently accepting Ukrainian refugees despite both countries having previously been accused of being anti-immigration by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Western European countries, such as Germany, Italy, England, and France, will likely face similar social divisions as Ukrainian refugees will almost certainly flee to those countries as well. Polarization within European societies will likely make Ukrainian refugees targets of anti-immigrant groups.
With the previous refugee flows from Syria and Afghanistan, far-right political parties from Western European countries, such as France, tried to gain support in Europe by positioning themselves against immigration and Middle Eastern refugees. Far-right politicians, such as French presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, have changed their position on the refugee matter and stated that Ukrainian refugees are welcome as they are Christian and European. It is almost certain that European far-right parties will change their stance on the migration topic. These parties will very likely imply that Ukrainian refugees should be accepted as a sign of solidarity with Ukraine. It is likely that far-right parties will try to reinforce the anti-immigrant sentiment towards Middle Eastern refugees, likely increasing polarization by stating Middle Eastern refugees are fleeing for economic reasons. Especially during election periods, these parties will very likely try to profit from the anti-immigrant sentiment towards Middle Eastern refugees by implying that they are taking up space from Ukrainian refugees.
The Counterterrorism Group’s (CTG) EUCOM Team recommends that the UNHCR provide medical support, food, and clothing to Ukrainian refugees on the borders with Poland, Slovakia, and Moldova to prevent them from dying of hypothermia and malnutrition. CTG further recommends European countries provide refugees with mental health support and access to education, work, and medical care to assist their integration and to ensure appropriate living conditions in host countries. The UN refugee agency should also continue to monitor for potential racism and discrimination at Ukrainian borders. CTG recommends that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) continue to monitor potential human trafficking risks presented by refugees fleeing Ukraine.
CTG’s EUCOM Team will continue to monitor the economic, social, and political impacts of the Ukrainian refugee crisis. The EUCOM Team will, especially, monitor the threats that women and children are facing as a result of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, as well as racism and discrimination on Ukrainian borders. The CTG’s Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) Officers will continue to track the latest activities in Ukraine and Russia to provide current and fact-based analysis.
The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is a subdivision of the global consulting firm Paladin 7. CTG has a developed business acumen that proactively identifies and counteracts the threat of terrorism through intelligence and investigative products. Business development resources can now be accessed via the Counter Threat Center (CTC), emerging Fall 2021. The CTG produces W.A.T.C.H resources using daily threat intelligence, also designed to complement CTG specialty reports which utilize analytical and scenario-based planning. Innovation must accommodate political, financial, and cyber threats to maintain a level of business continuity, regardless of unplanned incidents that may take critical systems offline. To find out more about our products and services visit us at counterterrorismgroup.com.
________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)
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