Detention and lack of protection: discriminatory treatment of non-Ukrainian refugees

After a long period of negotiations, the Temporary Protection Directive came into existence in 2001. However, it wasn’t until March, 2nd this year that the temporary directive was activated for Ukrainian people fleeing the war. Representatives of the Member States sitting in the European Council unanimously decided that everyone who lived in Ukraine before the beginning of the Russian conflict (24/02/2022) can enjoy temporary protection in any EU Member State. Included in the directive are people who have received international protection or stateless people. This means that people without a regular status in Ukraine are excluded which raises some questions; How come the directive has never been used before? What makes this war different from the war in Syria for example? And why are people who are in legal limbo left there?


Currently, people and animals have been evacuated from Ukraine and welcomed by Europe with open arms. Meanwhile, the dozens of refugees being detained in Ukrainian detention centres funded by the European Union seem to have been forgotten. The strict security measures in these detention centres make it impossible for people to flee in case of a bombing. Even if the third-country nationals were able to flee the camps, they would not be able to get protection in Europe because they are being excluded from the temporary protective directive. The fact that they are fleeing the same war does not matter.


In addition to this, non-white people are also faced with racial discrimination when trying to cross the border. Media outlets and investigative journalism groups Lighthouse Reports, The Independent, Der Spiegel, and Radio France have found that many African people who have fled Ukraine to get protection in Europe are now being held in detention centres. In Poland, detention centres currently hold 52 third-country nationals who have fled Ukraine. The same happens in Estonia, where non-Ukrainian people fleeing the war are being detained. There is no decent access to the internet in the camps, making it nearly impossible for the refugees to appeal against their detention within time.


Discrimination becomes clear in other member states as well. In Greece, politicians refer to Ukrainian refugees as “real refugees”, who receive a very different treatment from “second class” refugees from African and Asian countries. The latter are prevented from entering the territory through the illegal practice of pushbacks, are held in reception centres with appalling living conditions, and forced to live in legal limbo for years while waiting for their asylum claims to be processed. An illegal pushback where a four-year-old boy died is again proof of this different treatment. In Samos, for example, are refugees who do get the chance to apply for asylum held in prison-like camps.


Why were other refugees never granted temporary protection in Europe? During the Arab Uprisings and during the Syrian war, voices were raised to implement the temporary protection directive, but the European Council never decided to activate it. There were multiple reasons for this. Firstly, Europe feared the Directive would become a pull factor leading more migrants to ask for asylum in Europe. Secondly, only border states were strongly affected by the influx of migrants, meaning that other member states were not affected as much by the rise of asylum seekers. Moreover, many Member States were not willing to welcome asylum seekers to their territory, things they should have done according to the solidarity and responsibility-sharing mechanisms foreseen in the Directive. They preferred the working of the Dublin regulation which mainly puts pressure on the border states. Therefore the European Council never came to a majority vote.


Moreover, the Council can decide who will be excluded from the temporary protection directive. This decision can be based on ethnical origin. It is notable that the implementation of the temporary protective directive for Ukrainian refugees was unanimously approved. How come the European Union is now so open for Ukrainian refugees, whilst making it hard for other refugees to apply for asylum in Europe?


Europe Must Act commends this discriminatory and different treatment between white-Ukrainian refugees and other refugees. We believe it is time for Europe to step away from this discrimination and include everyone fleeing Ukraine in the temporary protection directive. We believe that no one should be left behind.

While the European Union is turning into a Fortress with closed borders for refugees seeking sanctuary, this situation proves that response based on solidarity and humanity is possible and should be replicated.


If you want to understand the temporary protection directive and its history better, you can read this study. Follow and share our posts to raise more awareness on these topics.