The New Ukrainian Refugee Crisis

The New Ukrainian Refugee Crisis

By Paige Clark

The world is watching in horror as Ukrainians face a Russian invasion and unfathomable violence. Many people have fled from Ukraine in the past week; most have gone to Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, and Slovakia. [1]  Time will tell if the fighting resolves quickly enough to avoid a permanent refugee crisis. If the violence continues, however, the million-plus refugees who have fled may not be able to return any time soon and the numbers will keep climbing.

The 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”[2] Human Rights Law “protects persons from deportation if there is a ‘real risk’ of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or an arbitrary deprivation of their life upon expulsion.”[3] Domestic and International bodies are monitoring the number of refugees leaving Ukraine. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on February 27 tweeted: [t]he number of refugees from Ukraine who have crossed to Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova and other countries is escalating and is now 368,000. The governments and people of those countries are welcoming refugees. It is now urgent to share this responsibility in concrete ways.”[4] This was followed by updated tweets on February 28 that more than 500,000 refugees had fled from Ukraine, and on March 1 that “The number of people who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries has reached 677,000.”[5] In the first seven days alone, over a million refugees had fled.[6] A large number of people have arrived in Poland; as of March 1, Poland had accepted over 377,000 refugees, and the Polish government estimated approximately 50,000 refugees are arriving every day.[7]

On February 28, Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, made a statement to the United Nations Security Council, noting “I have worked in refugee crises for almost 40 years and I have rarely seen such an incredibly fast-rising exodus of people – the largest, surely, within Europe, since the Balkan wars.”[8] Grandi also discussed the difficulty of countries receiving refugees. “The challenge to admit and register, to meet the needs and ensure the protection of those fleeing, are daunting, but so far they have been met, though I am seriously concerned about the likely, and further escalation in the number of arrivals.”[9] Refugees leaving Ukraine show no signs of stopping, and at 44 million residents, there are likely to be people fleeing as long as the violence continues. Grandi estimated they should plan for up to four million refugees to flee in the upcoming weeks and months.[10] This rapid increase in refugees “would be a huge burden for receiving states and would no doubt stress reception systems and related resources. Like all countries hosting refugees around the world, they cannot be left alone to shoulder this responsibility.”[11]

Grandi asked to activate the Temporary Protection Directive, which would allow refugees fleeing Ukraine immediate temporary refuge in the EU, as well as “facilitate the sharing of responsibility for people fleeing Ukraine among European States.”[12] The EU is also expected to approve additional relief.[13] Under a new emergency plan, Ukrainian refugees would have the right to live and work in the European Union for up to three years.[14] “The EU plan, which is expected to be approved on Thursday by the bloc’s member states, would grant Ukrainian nationals and permanent residents the right to live, work, access healthcare, housing and education immediately for up to one year, without the requirement to go through lengthy asylum procedures. If the conflict continues, or refugees cannot return safely, that status could be extended for a further two years.”[15] Many countries have individually indicated a willingness to receive refugees. The UK, for example, indicated it could take in 200,000 Ukrainian refugees, and would do so by extending its immigration scheme to allow parents, grandparents, and adult children of Ukrainian people settled in the UK to immigrate.[16] UK companies may also be able to sponsor a Ukrainian entering the country.[17]

Many have noted that while hospitality is commendable, it illustrates a disturbing difference in how migrants from different countries (primarily the Middle East and Africa) are treated. [18] In particular, Syrians who fled were not welcomed with open arms as Ukrainians have been. Several politicians and journalists have made extremely disturbing and racist comments on the situation, such as Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov who said “These are not the refugees we are used to . . . these people are Europeans . . . these people are intelligent, they are educated people . . . . This is not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists . . . in other words . . . there is not a single European country now which is afraid of the current wave of refugees.”[19] Although no one should look unfavorably at how open countries have been to receive Ukrainians, we should be extremely critical of past hesitancy to receive African and middle eastern refugees. Black residents of Ukraine are also facing acute, visceral discrimination in the country. “The United Nations has admitted that some non-Europeans refugees have faced racism while trying to flee to safety at Ukraine borders after their experiences were dismissed as lies and ‘Russian disinformation’ by online commentators.”[20] One distinct aspect of the Ukrainian refugee crisis, however, is the speed of the exodus. One million people fled from Ukraine in the first seven days of Russia’s invasion, whereas it took three months for one million refugees to leave Syria in 2013.[21] Filippo Grandi stated: “I have worked in refugee emergencies for almost 40 years, and rarely have I seen an exodus as rapid as this one.”[22] As more people flee, countries will hopefully continue to create opportunities to receive refugees.


[1] High Commissioner’s Statement to the United Nations Security Council on Ukraine (Feb. 28, 2022),

[2] Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, July 28, 1951, 189 U.N.T.S. 150.

[3] Jan-Phillip Graf & Spyridoula Katsoni, The Future of “Climate Refugees” in International Law, VÖLKERRECHTSBLOG (May 6, 2021),

[4] Filippo Grandi (@FilippoGrandi), Twitter (Feb. 27, 2022, 1:32 PM),

[5] Filippo Grandi (@FilippoGrandi), Twitter (Feb. 28, 2022, 11:42 AM),; Filippo Grandi (@FilippoGrandi), Twitter (Mar. 1, 2022, 4:02 PM),

[6] Tim Lister, et. al., One Million Refugees Flee Ukraine as Russia Escalates Bombardment of Key Cities, CNN (Mar. 4, 2022, 6:11 AM),

[7] BBC, How Many Refugees Have Fled Ukraine and Where Are They Going? (Mar. 3, 2022),

[8] High Commissioner’s Statement to the United Nations Security Council on Ukraine (Feb. 28, 2022),

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Jennifer Rankin, Ukrainian Refugees Given Right to Live in EU for Three Years, Guardian (Mar. 20, 2022, 10:12 AM),

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] BBC, Ukraine Conflict: UK Relaxes Visa Rules for Refugees (Mar. 2, 2022),

[17] Id.

[18] Renata Brito, Europe Welcomes Ukrainian Refugees – Others, Less So, Associated Press (Feb. 28, 2022),

[19] Id.

[20] Nadine White, UN Admits Refugees Have Faced Racism at Ukraine Borders, Indep. (Mar. 1, 2022),

[21] Tim Lister, et. al., One Million Refugees Flee Ukraine as Russia Escalates Bombardment of Key Cities, CNN (Mar. 4, 2022, 6:11 AM),

[22] Id.