War Byproduct: Refugees
Terry H. Schwadron
Feb. 27, 2022
It’s only taken a day or two to recognize the potential scope of the refugee issues that the Russian invasion into Ukraine is prompting.
Within hours of Russian troops beginning to move, the United Nations estimated that about 100,000 Ukrainians were displaced, a number that could grow to 1 to 5 million. Massive traffic jams formed on the roads towards the countries surrounding Ukraine, and there was a rush on money and available gasoline.
In Poland, in Moldova, even in Hungary, which officially disdains refugees, and elsewhere, tent cities were going up quicky as preparations were starting to meet a perceived humanitarian need,
Neither the belligerence of Russian attempts to take over the Ukrainian government or simply annex the country nor American and European promises of economic sanctions to eventually punish Russia are going to do a single thing for the millions now said to be fleeing Ukraine.
The estimates of displacement of five million Ukrainians would be several multiples of the number of migrants who sought asylum in Europe during the peak year of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015, notes Post columnist Catherine Rampell. Taking in those Syrian Muslim refugees started ugly societal ripples still being felt in Europe and in the U.S., though this round of refugees involves largely white, Christian Europeans.
Just where fleeing Ukrainians are supposed to head and for how long obviously is uncertain. But it is doubtful that the world is prepared for an exodus on this scale.
Add it to the miscalculations or non-calculations by Russian leader Vladimir Putin in insisting on this illegal international invasion.
In the Russian telling, Ukrainians were supposed to welcome their Russian liberators, not fight them, and certainly not run headlong to other areas. That’s the whole shtick here, that Ukrainians actually don’t exist separately from Mother Russia.
The early days already are showing the myth.
From a purely American point of view, the situation is already complicated and messy. Adding in the political fallout in a dozen countries finding themselves suddenly overwhelmed with refugee issues could not possibly help maintain an alliance or contribute to a sense of international certainty in the United States. The Syrian refugee crisis\ bred a far-right backlash and political violence across Europe.
In all the political blather in Washington over showing a fist to Putin, there has been little mention about extending visas to Ukrainians already in this country or inviting lots more in. That had been a takeaway after the Afghanistan withdrawal — involving a far smaller population. And even then, many Republican voices simply wanted some other unnamed country to deal with refugees, just not America.
Years of anti-immigrant policy in the United States has left our agencies unable to deal with the backups from Covid or the huge number of new asylum requests coming from the Southern border, never mind the emergency situations in Afghanistan or now Ukraine.
We can expect another zillion refugees from climate changes as deteriorating effects leave lands too hot or too dry to inhabit.
Immediately, Poland, Romania and Slovakia have begun making preparations for inflows of up to a million people. But it is coming with caution about implications that the growing incursion will lead to a major migrant crisis, with serious humanitarian, political and societal costs.
Visas are being waived, temporary hospitals set up, money likely already is being raised by governments and non-government organizations. Along the 500-mile Polish border, eight reception centers were set up in a day near crossing points.
Vox reports that for now, central Europe is welcoming Ukrainians with open arms. But none of those countries is equipped to handle the volume of refugees that are likely to arrive on their borders in the coming weeks, and European and US leadership need to scramble to help build up that capacity.
For comparison, Poland accepted 5,200 refugees in the first nine months of 2021. A million is a big step up.
The needs go beyond temporary provisions of food, clothing, and shelter that can sustain them through the cold weather. They are facing the prospect of long-term displacement. What will be under review are formal pathways to legal status, access to resettlement services, permanent housing, education, and healthcare.
They also need vaccination for Covid. Ukraine has vaccinated about 38 percent of residents.
Europe will get the biggest responsibility, no doubt, but it will affect requests for financial support and supplies from the United States.
We are left wondering if this was all the result of Russian miscalculation or, more likely, some cruel byproduct of causing yet more chaos in the West.