Ukrainian refugees in the West: US rejects, Canada accepts

What is the difference between American and European migration programs for receiving migrants from Ukraine

Ukrainians continue to leave their homes and rush to the West in search of a better life. They are ready to accept refugees abroad, at least in words. A lot of concrete steps have also been taken, the main Western players already have programs to help internally displaced persons. Only now they often work “with a creak” and, as expected, are most effective where they are least bureaucratized. We looked at how North America and Europe are coping with one of the biggest migration crises of recent years.

How the EU suddenly consolidated

It's no secret that the declared unity of the European Union often remains at the level of high-profile statements, but the EU bureaucratic machine, forced to take into account the opinions of all 27 member countries of the association, takes fundamental decisions with difficulty. But in the case of Ukrainian refugees, the efficiency and coherence of the work of the “common European home” amazed even the skeptics.

On March 3, that is, just a week after the start of the Russian special operation, the European Union adopted the so-called Interim Directive on the protection of residents of Ukraine. EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson called the document “historic” and in the context of the situation, this does not sound like an exaggeration.

The members of the association were not only able to agree in a short time, but also agreed on extremely soft requirements for the settlers. The word “temporary” in the characteristics of the directive should not confuse. It is really designed for one year, however, during this period, Ukrainians and foreigners legally residing in Ukraine will be able to live in the EU, study, work, receive medical care – exactly the same as the local population. The main thing is that either a Ukrainian passport, if any, or evidence of the impossibility of leaving home (in the case of foreign citizens) is enough for this. With regard to the one-year limit, this condition is also flexible: the duration of the directive can be extended by a total of three years if instability persists in Ukraine, that is, conditions are not safe for those wishing to return there.

Among the leaders in the reception of Ukrainian refugees, of which more than 4 million arrived in the EU in general (Brussels in February proceeded from expectations of 7 million people for the whole of 2022), first of all, neighboring countries: Poland, Romania, Hungary, Moldova. Only on Polish territory, the number of Ukrainians who have arrived since the beginning of the Russian special operation is estimated at three million. Romania has accepted a little less than a million refugees, the rest of the countries are significantly behind in these indicators.

However, it must be taken into account: freedom of movement in the EU means that not everyone who fled, for example, to Poland, will remain there. In the conditions of a powerful influx of people from Ukraine, the population of the host EU member states is not always satisfied with the “replenishment”. Stories are heard everywhere about how uncultured some of the refugees behave, believing that “everyone owes everything” to them as victims. A double-edged sword: citizens of the European Union countries sometimes provoke conflicts themselves, attacking the “come in large numbers”. In this sense, the EU directive, of course, still has to play its role, because one of its goals is to evenly distribute migration flows throughout the EU.

Often, migrants not only move further along the continent, but even leave it altogether, especially since they also have asylum programs across the English Channel and across the ocean. But their effectiveness varies greatly.

Sex traffic and work for food

The UK, which left the European Union, did not face the difficulties that its former partners on the continent, solving the problem of refugees. London does not need to negotiate with anyone, which is why the program to help immigrants was adopted quite quickly, back in February.

Michael Gove, the British Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government, then promised “thousands of places” for Ukrainian migrants, which immediately drew criticism – the United Kingdom did not do much in terms of numbers in previous migration crises. It is not clear where the official planned to get the funds that Britain, which had left the EU and weakened by the pandemic, had spent.

The final program, called “Houses for Ukraine”, actually left the fate of the refugees at the mercy of themselves and the so-called sponsors.

According to the scheme, at least one of three criteria must be met in order to receive asylum. Facilitated conditions for entry are received by citizens of Ukraine, but not by third countries (even if they lived legally on Ukrainian territory). In the absence of the required nationality, it is necessary that one of the parents (for those under 18 years of age), or a husband/wife, or a common-law partner with whom the applicant has been in a relationship for at least two years, live on British soil. This person must also be of Ukrainian origin. The third option is the presence of a sponsor, that is, a person or organization ready to take on the maintenance of a refugee.

Since March, more than 200 thousand applications have been received from potential “guardians”, from the side of immigrants – about 40 thousand. Satisfied, however, a little more than three thousand petitions, but the fate of those who are lucky is not known for certain: the presence of a sponsor does not eliminate the need to apply for a visa, which has always been difficult in the UK. Among those who managed to enter the country, alarm is heard. Some refugees were not offered the living conditions that were promised, they tried to force them to work for food. And this cannot be attributed to fastidiousness and deceived high expectations. Human rights activists sent a warning letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, stating that potential sponsors may have criminal intentions: to use immigrants for the slave trade, sexual exploitation, etc. The head of government listened, promising to strengthen control over the implementation of the sponsorship scheme.

For more than two months in the UK, less than 50 thousand people received entry visas (some of them due to Ukrainian citizenship and the presence of relatives) and not all of them have refugee status.

The problem is not only the lack of transparency and bureaucracy of the British program, but also the lack of resources. It was not without reason that the idea of ​​a “migrant offshore” was proposed in London, that is, sending asylum seekers to processing centers in Rwanda. After processing the dossier in Africa, in case of a positive verdict, the settlers will be able to enter British territory.

The deal with Rwanda caused even more criticism than the sponsorship scheme, and human rights activists sent a preliminary letter to the Ministry of Internal Affairs addressed to the Minister of Internal Affairs Priti Patel. It states that the “offshore” program raises questions from the point of view of legality. Now Patel, who initiated the deal, may face the need to give explanations already in court.

The Land of the Maple Leaf and the Trident

Canada has long been known for having a large Ukrainian community on its territory. The Maple Leaf Country is, in principle, one of the most popular migration destinations for residents of the post-Soviet space. Bordering on land only with the United States, the state cannot count on a large influx of Americans, who are sometimes condescending towards their neighbors and are trying to embody the “American place” in their homeland. But immigrants from the countries of the former USSR rush to Canada willingly.

In more than three million Canadian Alberta, Ukrainians make up about 10% of the city's population. In the capital of the country, Ottawa, the share is smaller, but significant – almost 3%, that is, about 22 thousand people, and in total there are almost one and a half million Ukrainians in Canada.

It is not surprising that with the start of the Russian special operation in Ukraine, the Canadian direction has become highly sought after by refugees who rely on relatively easy entry due to the presence of a large community and immediate relatives.

The calculation turned out to be correct. Without exchanging for specific indicators, the Canadian authorities on March 17 announced their readiness to accept an unlimited number of immigrants. And they eased the conditions for those applying for refugee status.

The Canadian Facilitated Entry Program applies to holders of Ukrainian passports, citizens of third countries legally residing in Ukraine, and those whose close relatives already reside in the North American country. If at least one of these conditions is met, applications from applicants are considered on a priority basis (for example, a maximum of two weeks is allotted for studying an online application), and if successful, an entry document is issued with a validity period of up to 10 years. The only significant limitation is the need to renew the visa every three years. To do this, however, you will only need to confirm your status or inform about its change: a person is registered as having a work permit in Canada, a student or just a guest.

From the beginning of the CUAET (Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel) program on March 17 until the end of April, more than 181 thousand applications were received, about 71 thousand received approval – a serious indicator, given the remoteness of Canada, proving, as in the case of the EU, that clear conditions of entry without excessive red tape is the key to efficiency. But on the Canadian and European Union programs, loyalty to refugees striving for the West ends, giving way to the “red ribbon”.

American approach: belated and inefficient

In the United States, it is customary to call red tape (in English red tape) bureaucratic red tape, the purpose of which is not to solve the problem, but to drag it out as much as possible with any intelligible answer. This is exactly what the American administration did for a long time, despite the fact that back in March, President Joe Biden said: the United States is ready to accept up to one hundred thousand refugees from Ukraine.

The measures that followed immediately affected only those already living in the United States, allowing them to remain in the country even after the expiration of their visa. For asylum seekers, the situation has not fundamentally changed. As a result, thousands of people gathered at the checkpoints on the border with Mexico, waiting for the consideration of visa applications and permission to enter. Quite a few people are “stuck” in continental Europe, waiting for constantly postponed interviews at diplomatic missions. The US Migration Service appealed to existing acts that facilitate migration. For Ukrainians, this is the Lotenberg amendment, which allowed simplified entry for representatives of various minorities. It was through it that many Ukrainian Catholics arrived in the United States.

Human rights activists, however, criticized all aspects of Biden's policy, recalling that the White House is trying to respond to a new challenge with old and therefore far from effective measures, and the president is forced was to give up.

At the end of April, Biden nevertheless announced a holistic program to support Ukrainian refugees. dubbed “Unity for Ukraine”, it is essentially very similar to the British “House for Ukraine” scheme. Both initiatives are based on the principle of sponsorship. mindful of the claims against London, Washington immediately placed emphasis on a thorough check of both asylum seekers and potential sponsors. The host party is not limited in how many “wards” they wish to support, but for this they will have to prove their financial viability. In addition, applicants will be given the opportunity to obtain a work permit. However, even if the asylum seeker guarantees that he can work and provide for himself, he must first secure sponsorship.

All this, again, does not eliminate the need to obtain a visa, but with a sponsorship scheme, applications will be considered faster. Filling in online forms opened on April 25. From the beginning of the program, an attempt by Ukrainians who are at land entry points at the Mexican border without a valid visa or without prior permission will be denied entry – they must apply online, according to representatives of the US Customs and Border Protection.

So far, the US Department has not provided statistics on the number of online questionnaires. But the data from the Mexican border is disappointing – from 50 to 100 people arrive there daily, including people from Ukraine. Despite the warning, they expect to be able to pass “on a first come, first served basis”. Giorgi Mikaberidze, 19, who is in Mexico, told The Guardian that he arrived in the country on April 25 – when online applications began – and found that the border with the United States was closed. According to him, the American authorities have extremely poorly informed the relevant services about the new entry conditions, and now he and others like him are in limbo. “We want to go to America, because we are already here, some don’t even have money to return,” Mikaberidze stressed. Of course, now these people are allowed to apply via the Internet, but during the consideration of applications you will have to find at least a roof over your head.

Like the British program, the American one has already become the subject of criticism from both human rights activists and official law enforcement agencies. thus, their representatives note, the principle of de facto sponsorship can contribute to illegal migration. For example, a low-income Ukrainian family negotiates with wealthier neighbors to sponsor their relative. When a refugee enters American territory, he settles in the house of his relatives, fictitious sponsors receive some kind of one-time “thank you”, and then the migrant gradually changes his status of stay in the country on a related basis. Such schemes and the like have been taken into account by law enforcement officers, but a mechanism to combat them has not yet been developed. How many people entered the United States under the “Together for Ukraine” program has not yet been officially reported, and relatively little time has passed since the beginning of the action.

In total, several thousand Ukrainians arrived on American territory during the Russian special operation, but the overwhelming majority are based on previously received documents. It is significant that less than a thousand Ukrainians have received refugee status in the United States since last fall. In the spring of 2022, there were only a few dozen of them. And this continues to fuel reasonable speculation that Washington is not eager to take in settlers, gently trying to leave them to Europe or Canada.


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