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EU nations agreed on Thursday to grant Ukrainians fleeing from the war after the Russian invasion the right to stay in the bloc without a visa for one year, and which can be extended if necessary.
A special meeting of EU interior ministers on Thursday agreed to apply a little-used rule known as the Temporary Protection Directive to any Ukrainians who want to come to an EU country. Under this directive, those fleeing the war will be granted temporary protection in the EU, meaning that they will be given a residence permit, and they will have access to education and to the labour market.
The 90-day rule had already been in place for Ukrainians since 2017, allowing them to enter any EU or Schengen zone country without a visa and stay there for up to 90 days. The activation of the Temporary Protection Directive means that they can now stay within the EU or Schengen zone for a year without having to apply for a visa or make a claim for asylum. During that year, they will be allowed to work and children can also access education.
Non-Ukrainian nationals and stateless people legally residing in Ukraine who cannot return to their country or region of origin, such as asylum seekers or beneficiaries of international protection and their family members, will also be granted protection in the EU.
Others who are legally present in Ukraine for a short-term and are able to return safely to their country of origins will fall outside the scope of this protection. Nevertheless, they will be allowed access to the EU to transit prior to returning to their countries of origin.
The Temporary Protection Directive was specifically conceived to give immediate protection to the persons who need it and to avoid overwhelming Member States’ asylum systems.
The measure comes into effect immediately and covers both Ukrainians who have already arrived and those who come in the days or weeks to come.
At the same time, the EU Commission is also putting forward operational guidelines intended to help member states’ border guards in managing arrivals at the borders with Ukraine efficiently, while maintaining a high level of security. The guidelines also recommend that member states set up special emergency support lanes to channel humanitarian aid and recall the possibility of granting access to the EU on humanitarian grounds.
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: ‘Europe stands by those in need of protection. All those fleeing Putin’s bombs are welcome in Europe. We will provide protection to those seeking shelter and we will help those looking for a safe way home.’
The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates that one million Ukrainians have already left the country and this number is expected to increase in the coming days as Russia intensifies their attacks.