Asylum Seekers and Refugees Fleeing Ukraine Face Significant Barriers to Protection in the EU, HIAS-R2P Report Finds

BRUSSELS — Thousands of non-Ukrainian refugees and asylum seekers who fled Ukraine following Russia’s invasion continue to face significant barriers to protection and integration across the European Union, according to new research from HIAS and its Ukrainian partner Right to Protection (R2P).

The research finds that, while the EU and its member states have delivered commendable protection for Ukrainians forced to flee, third country nationals and stateless people have fallen through the cracks of the EU’s asylum policy.

The report, “They told me they couldn’t help me”: Protection Risks Facing Non-Ukrainian Asylum Seekers and Refugees Fleeing Ukraine to the EU, surveyed 300 non-Ukrainian asylum seekers and refugees now in the EU, many of whom had previously received legal aid from R2P in Ukraine.

“Though the EU’s Temporary Protection Directive has delivered unprecedented status and rights to more than 4.9 million Ukrainians, it has left non-Ukrainians fleeing the same war out in the cold,” said HIAS Europe Advocacy Officer Katharine Woolrych. “Our report provides constructive recommendations to ensure a more consistent, non-discriminatory approach to protecting people fleeing Ukraine.”

According to official accounts, prior to Russia’s invasion on February 24, 2022, some 5,000 refugees and asylum seekers were living in Ukraine. Having already fled other conflicts or persecution, these people are particularly vulnerable: they often lack documents and sometimes even a nationality; they do not have a safe home country to return to; they are often denied legal status due to serious shortcomings in the Ukrainian asylum system. Many of these people have found themselves among the millions displaced across borders, while others remain inside Ukraine, where they continue to face wartime threats to their life and safety.

The new research reveals that:

  • Temporary protection in Europe is not an option for many non-Ukrainian asylum seekers and refugees. Nearly 4 in 10 survey respondents had not received temporary protection in EU countries. More than 38% of respondents identified obstacles applying for or being granted status. Ukrainian nationals, by contrast, are usually issued temporary protection documentation on the same day as registration in at least 17 countries.
  • Few have access to legal information or advice. Only a quarter of respondents knew where to find legal aid to help them secure status and documentation. As a result, many live for long periods in legal limbo.
  • More than 40% of the survey respondents do not have access to full housing assistance and close to 40% cannot access free medical care.
  • More than 10% surveyed had no identity or travel documents. As a result, they cannot travel within the EU, return to Ukraine, or access basic needs.

The population of asylum seekers and refugees in Ukraine is vulnerable, small, and has been largely invisible in the global narrative. Yet, the protection risks they face are shared by other groups of third country nationals, stateless persons, and others who risk being ineligible for temporary protection despite fleeing Russian aggression. Further, the findings provide evidence of broader failings and double standards of EU asylum policy, including the risk of a two-tier system for Ukrainians and other refugees.

Nonetheless, the report provides a range of concrete actions that the EU, Member States, and humanitarian and asylum actors can take to better protect asylum seekers and refugees, including:

  • Extending the scope of temporary protection to protect asylum seekers and refugees, and ensuring that all non-Ukrainian asylum seekers and refugees fleeing Ukraine have access to either temporary protection or international protection procedures.
  • Making tailored information, legal advice, and support widely available for non-Ukrainian asylum seekers and refugees in relevant languages.
  • Ensuring all non-Ukrainian asylum seekers and refugees are granted necessary documents.
  • Facilitating access to affordable housing, food, and healthcare.
  • Collecting data on asylum seekers and refugees fleeing Ukraine.

By taking these measures, stakeholders can assist a population that has faced multiple phases of displacement and trauma, while upholding their international obligations, and providing a consistent approach to refugee welcome and support.

###