The EU is expected to rapidly approve a protection mechanism for war refugees fleeing Ukraine — so far numbered at one million — and set up a humanitarian hub in Romania, officials said Thursday.
The moves by the European Union came in parallel to its muscular sanctions on Russia imposed in successive waves over the course of the invasion, now in its eighth day.
EU interior ministers turning up for a Brussels meeting on how to address the growing wave of Ukrainian refugees said they expected the gathering to give political assent to a Temporary Protection mechanism.
The mechanism was drawn up two decades ago, in response to the wars in the former Yugoslavia, but never used.
The proposal by the EU’s executive would give refugees from Ukraine and family members a residence permit and the right to access work and education for an initial year, renewable every six months after that for a total of two years.
Currently, Ukrainians with passports bearing biometric data have only the right to visit the EU’s Schengen area for up to three months, without the right to work.
If agreed, as expected, by a majority of EU countries, the legal document enshrining the temporary protection mechanism for those fleeing the war in Ukraine could be enacted “in the coming days”, French Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin said.
His German counterpart, Nancy Faeser, called it “a paradigm shift” for the European Union, which has long struggled to reform its asylum rules.
Hungary’s government — which has the closest ties to Moscow of any EU country — said it was against blanket EU protection for Ukrainians.
At the same time, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that the EU was setting up a “humanitarian hub” in Romania, one of four EU countries bordering Ukraine.
“Protecting the people fleeing (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s bombs is not only an act of compassion in times of war. This is also our moral duty, as Europeans,” she said.