We have passed the shocking milestone of 2 million refugees fleeing Ukraine in just 12 days, mainly into five neighbouring countries. Over half are fleeing to Poland alone.
After five days on the ground in the region – meeting refugees, humanitarian workers, local responders and Governments – while I am heartened by the welcome shown, I am deeply saddened for Ukraine and its people.
At the borders I saw an exodus of people, mostly women and children, along with older refugees and people with disabilities. They arrived shocked and deeply impacted by the violence and their arduous journeys to safety. Families have been senselessly ripped apart. Tragically, unless the war is stopped, the same will be true for many more.
The response by Europe has been remarkable. The EU’s temporary protection directive offers the refugees security and options, a chance for stability during a time of great upheaval.
Poland has received over 1.2 million refugees. Both the Polish Government and local communities have mounted a commendable, well-organized welcome. The same can be said for both the Republic of Moldova and Romania, which I visited during my mission, as well as other neighbouring countries, which have generously kept their borders open. At the borders with Ukraine, I saw an unmatched outpouring of spontaneous solidarity by communities and humanitarians from across each country: local responders were busy, mountains of donations had been built, all effectively organized by border guards, local authorities and communities.
UNHCR has also ramped up its response, supporting the coordination of the humanitarian response, as well as deploying scores of experts and tens of millions of dollars of aid to support governments’ response through the provision of material and cash assistance. We have also reinforced our protection teams to address the needs of women and children, about whom we are particularly concerned.
It is, however, imperative that the international community steps up to provide much more support for the refugee response and for host communities, particularly in Moldova. All European states must continue to show generosity. Other countries, beyond Europe, also have an important role to play to help people in need and share the international responsibility for millions of refugees.
Yet behind the warm welcome lies despair and unimaginable suffering. The refugees who have crossed are safe from the violence, but none were spared huge loss and trauma. Behind the monolithic statistics are 2 million stories of separation, anguish, and loss.
With regard to reports of unacceptable discrimination of people fleeing Ukraine, I raised my concerns with relevant authorities as any acts of discrimination or racism must be condemned and all people must be protected. All authorities fully agreed and have given assurances, at the highest of levels of government as well as from those operating on the ground, that states are not and will not discriminate or turn away people fleeing Ukraine.
Inside Ukraine the picture is shocking. People are on the move or sheltering from the brutal war as best they can. Teams from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, along with our local partners are delivering aid where and when they can but access is restricted and unsafe. With the ICRC, the UN is trying to negotiate safe passages, but to do that we need the guns to fall silent.
To learn more about the situation in Ukraine, please visit this page.