BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The EU must prepare for the arrival of millions of refugees as they flee war in Ukraine, the bloc’s top home affairs official said on Thursday, adding that she expected governments to agree a temporary protection scheme in the coming days.
“Already, almost 1 million are here,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said, with women and children entering the European Union via Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary, which all have land borders with Ukraine.
The bloc’s interior ministers were set to agree in principle at a meeting on Thursday to automatically grant those fleeing Ukraine a residence permit and access to employment, social welfare and housing for up to three years, they said.
“(Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s terrible war of aggression has had terrible consequences for people in Ukraine,” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said as she arrived at the Brussels meeting.
“Today it is about all EU members agreeing on a policy to be able to provide help in a non-bureaucratic way.”
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The protective measures, once formally approved by EU governments in the coming week, will be granted to Ukrainians and those who had long-term residency or refugee status in Ukraine without them having to go through lengthy asylum procedures.
Those on short-term stays in Ukraine and who can safely return to their country of origin would not be eligible for special EU protection but would be allowed on EU territory and would get help to make their way home, the European Commission said.
The biggest attack on a European state since 1945 has also caused ructions in a global economy still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, led to a barrage of sanctions against Russia and stoked fears of wider conflict in the West.
(Reporting by Marine Strauss, Phil Blenkinsop, Johnny Cotton; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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