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Neighboring Countries Prepare for a Massive Influx of Refugees as Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Intensifies

  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had far-reaching consequences for Europe, which are being constantly monitored.
  • The continent is afraid that a full-blown invasion might lead to a huge migratory catastrophe, with substantial humanitarian, political and social repercussions.
  • Poland, Romania, Czechia, and Slovakia, which border these countries, have already started preparing for a possible influx of one million refugees.
  • As the situation in Ukraine deepens, neighbouring nations are anxiously following the repercussions.

Nations throughout the world have slapped unprecedented sanctions on Moscow, but the economic and military ramifications of Russia’s Ukrainian invasion are only half of the storey.

If a full-blown invasion occurs, Europe is worried that a huge migration catastrophe of the like not seen since World War II would occur, putting Ukrainian refugees and the nations to which they migrate at considerable humanitarian, political, and social risk.

Indeed, several central European states are already making preparations.

Up to 1 million Ukrainian migrants will be housed in hostels, dormitories, and sports facilities in Poland, which shares a 530-kilometer land border with Ukraine. Nearby Romania is predicting migration in the “hundreds of thousands,” while Slovakia and the Czech Republic put expected inflows in the tens of thousands.

The nature of the changing situation in Ukraine, however, means the amount of possible civilian displacement is as yet uncertain. Director of global risk analysis at Control Risks Oksana Antonenko told CNBC Tuesday that the crisis might have the greatest effect on Europe.

A complete invasion might displace millions

After Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea, around 1.5 million Ukrainians were forced to flee their homes. Others still migrated to Russia. This week, Russia’s takeover of eastern Ukrainian rebel-held territory was considered as likely to cause a similar, if smaller, influx of people inside the country and over the border to the east. Indeed, many have already been taken to Russia.

But Thursday’s aggressive invasion into central and western Ukraine might have much broader ramifications, analysts have warned. One to five million Ukrainians might be displaced if the United States invades Ukraine, according to official estimates. Ukraine’s military minister has estimated that amount closer to three to five million. “If that is to happen, we’re clearly talking about hundreds of thousands if not millions of migrants, and they would most likely be going towards Europe rather than Russia,” Antonenko added.

“If you ended up with a Russian controlled Ukraine, then they would be longer term European migrants,” noted Rodger Baker, Stratfor’s senior vice president for strategic analysis at Rane.

Beneficiaries of particular importance are Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia

In such a circumstance, the lion’s share of people may relocate overland to border countries: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and Romania. Under EU legislation, no visa is necessary for Ukrainians to visit the Schengen Region – a shared travel area among EU nations, which includes all the aforementioned save Moldova and Romania.

But western European nations such as Germany, France and Britain might swiftly feel the moral strain to share the weight of what the U.K.’s defence minister claimed will be the greatest migrant crisis “since the war.” 3,000 U.S. soldiers have been dispatched to Poland, the Pentagon said last week, to assist with the country’s preparations for an impending migrant surge after officials there stated they should be ready for “the worst-case scenario.”

According to Poland’s deputy interior minister, Maciej Wasik, “we have to be prepared for an inflow of actual refugees, people escaping from the fire, from death, from the crimes of war.” When the worst-case scenario occurs, the government has to be ready. The interior ministry has been working for some time to make sure we’re ready for a million people.

Already, Poland is home to a sizable Ukrainian minority. Though few have claimed refugee status, Poland has awarded roughly 300,000 temporary residence permits to Ukrainians in recent years. Indeed, some believe as many as 2 million Ukrainians have fled to Poland since the takeover of Crimea.

Yet another reason to question Europe’s readiness

While human rights watchdogs have applauded the preparations, many have objected to apparent double standards in central European nations’ readiness to accommodate migrants. During the 2015 European migrant crisis, which witnessed an inflow of migrants largely from Syria, Poland was hesitant to award asylum. More recently, in 2021, Polish border guards brutally drove back a swarm of predominantly Iraqi Kurdistan migrants at the Belarusian border.

Also of worry is how such enormous migration would play out politically. Refugee crisis of 2015 is largely believed to have strengthened far-right anti-immigration movement in Europe in the following years.. The post-Covid climate is already perilous enough without a further flood of refugees of the same kind.

However, governments’ readiness is likely to be restricted until they learn more about the scope of a new invasion and the resulting migration. “Even when it’s a probability, governments are seldom totally prepared,” said Baker. Short-term and preventative interventions are the primary emphasis at the moment. “Poland is particularly sensitive to the issue,” he added, adding the others are “not looking and hoping for the best.”

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Michael M. Sharp

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