Published on Friday 4 March, 2022

It’s been just over a week since the Russian government initiated a military invasion of Ukraine, and civilians are continuing to flee their homes in response to ongoing airstrikes, shelling, and ground fighting. According to the United Nations, as of 2 March more than one million people had fled the country in search of safety, many on foot in bitter cold temperatures – including tens of thousands of families with young children and infants. International Detention Coalition (IDC) stands firmly in solidarity with all those who have been impacted by this conflict, and we unequivocally condemn the Russian military invasion of Ukraine.

The largest numbers of refugee arrivals have been seen in Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia and Romania. The response of these governments has so far been overwhelmingly positive, with the Polish Interior Minister declaring that the country would take “as many [people] as there will be at our border,” and both the Hungarian and Moldovan governments pledging to keep their borders open to those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine. Local communities have also shown great generosity and hospitality; nine out of every ten refugees in Poland are being hosted by friends or family.

At the EU level, on Thursday the decision was taken to offer temporary protection to refugees fleeing Ukraine by triggering the temporary protection directive, which was drawn up in 2001 following the conflicts in the Balkans but has so far never been used. The Directive allows for people fleeing a particular country or area to be granted status for up to three years, without having to formally lodge an asylum claim. Other countries across the world have also shown their support for those affected by the conflict.

For IDC and its members, this positive response provides further evidence that immigration detention is not a necessary or integral part of migration governance systems at all. When governments prioritise creating a welcoming and safe environment for those fleeing war and persecution, people can seek sanctuary without being detained, and crucially with their human rights and liberty intact. 

However, concerning reports have emerged of African migrants and other migrants of colour, including international students studying in Ukraine, being blocked or delayed from fleeing to safety. This is unacceptable. Moreover, at its border with Belarus the Polish government continues its project to construct a wall to deter migrants and those seeking asylum from crossing. This follows months of aggressive pushbacks by the Polish authorities of people seeking safety, many of whom are migrants of colour, which have led to the deaths of at least 19 people. Regardless of sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, and racial, ethnic, religious, and national background, it is essential that all those fleeing conflict are able to exercise their right to seek asylum and their right to freedom of movement. Governments of receiving countries must provide a welcoming atmosphere, documentation and access to services to those arriving in search of peace and safety from Ukraine and elsewhere.

Overall, the regional and international response to the crisis in Ukraine has so far demonstrated that “Refugees Welcome” can be more than a slogan. As the crisis continues to unfold, IDC urges all governments to sustain the support and assistance that they have generously extended to so many fleeing Ukraine, and ensure this support is delivered to all people with equity and compassion. We also encourage governments to learn from this situation in order to inform their future responses to war and crises which force refugees and migrants to seek safety at their borders – no matter where people are from.

To the people, families and communities whose lives and futures have been impacted and uprooted by the conflict in Ukraine, we stand with you during this heartbreaking and challenging time.

IDC members are actively responding to refugees arriving from Ukraine:

  • In Poland, The Association for Legal Intervention (Stowarzyszenie Interwencji Prawnej – SIP) works to ensure that migrants and refugees in Poland are able to access their rights. See here for more information on accessing legal support and crossing the border into Poland. Other information can be found in Polish, Ukrainian, Russian and English here.
  • In Romania, the Jesuit Refugee Service is providing support to people arriving from Ukraine by providing welcome packages, channelling donations to people in need, and supporting people with accommodation and onward travel. Find out more and donate here.
  • In Hungary, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee is providing support and legal assistance to those fleeing Ukraine. They have produced information packs for refugees in Hungarian, Ukrainian, Russian and English that can be accessed here. For more information on their response and to donate, click here.

More information on the ongoing crisis, and regular situation updates, can be found on the UNHCR Help page and the Operational Data Portal for Ukraine.