Refugees: EU humanitarian support to those forced to flee
In 2022, the world reached a milestone that should have never been reached: in May this year, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees announced that a record 100 million people are now forcibly displaced worldwide.
The EU, together with its Member States, is one of the largest international donors supporting population in situations of forced displacement. We continue to work closely with our humanitarian partners to provide emergency aid to the most vulnerable refugees.
The number of those forcibly displaced has been pushed up due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the war in Ukraine has displaced 8 million within the country and forced more than 7.5 million to cross the border to neighbouring countries.
In response to this unprecedented refugee wave in Europe, the EU and its Member States mobilised unprecedented resources.
The Commission made €348 million available for humanitarian aid projects to help civilians affected by the war in Ukraine, of which €13 million were allocated to support displaced people from Ukraine in the Republic of Moldova.
Despite the limited resources, the Government of Moldova, local organisations, charities and volunteers have been at the centre of the early response to the crisis.
EU humanitarian aid is contributing to this effort through its partners, providing:
- emergency assistance at border crossing points and transit points
- basic living conditions including food and sanitation services in reception centres
- cash assistance to vulnerable refugees
- shelter, health care and protection services for refugees at risk or with special needs.
The EU also demonstrated solidarity with neighbouring countries experiencing large inflows of refugees after Russia’s invasion.
Via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, the Member States donated vast amounts of in-kind assistance, including vaccines and shelter equipment to Poland, power generators and medicines to Slovakia, field beds to the Czech Republic, medical equipment and food to Moldova.
And in March 2022, the EU activated the Temporary Protection Directive, offering quick and effective assistance to people fleeing the war in Ukraine.
Under this Directive, those eligible will be granted temporary protection in the EU, meaning that they will be able to stay in the EU for at least 1 year and will be given a residence permit, and access to education and to the labour market.
Millions of refugees cannot be forgotten
The spotlight on the war in Ukraine and the wave of refugees fleeing the country should not distract us from the continuing, long-standing, quasi-permanent refugee situations affecting other regions of the world.
According to UNHCR, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide rose to 90 million by the end of 2021, due to violence or protracted conflict in countries including Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Nigeria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Many refugees are undocumented and are not included in official figures. Some 86% of refugees are hosted in developing countries, where livelihoods and opportunities are already scarce.
Voluntary repatriation to their home countries is the preferred long-term outcome for refugees, but the lack of political solutions to conflicts, recurrent violence, and instability prevent many from doing so.
Where do refugees come from and where are they hosted?
What is their situation?
In urban areas, they struggle with poverty, lack of psychosocial support, and normalising their legal status.
When new emergencies occur, they suffer from violence, abuse, and exploitation.
How are we helping them?
The EU is a leading international donor in situations of forced displacement. In 2021, the European Commission allocated most of its humanitarian budget of more than €1.4 billion to projects that address the needs of forcibly displaced and local communities worldwide.
This funding helped meet the most urgent needs of extremely vulnerable populations including women, children and people with disabilities, protecting and supporting them during displacement and when returning to their homes.
For Syria, which remains the world’s largest refugee crisis after a decade of conflict, in 2021, the European Commission alone mobilised €130 million in humanitarian aid to provide vital assistance to millions of people inside Syria.
In May 2022, the international community pledged close to €6.4 billion for 2022 and beyond. Out of this amount, over €4.8 billion were pledged by the EU, with over €3.1 billion coming from the European Commission and €1.7 billion from the EU Member States. The Commission also supports Syrian refugees hosted in neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
Turkey is the world’s largest refugee host country and currently hosts close to 4 million refugees, most of them from Syria. The EU’s humanitarian flagship programme in Turkey is the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN), which provides cash assistance to help vulnerable refugees.
The EU has not forgotten the 6 million Venezuelans displaced in the world. In 2021, the Commission pledged €147 million to fund humanitarian interventions supporting Venezuelan migrants and refugees through a wide network of humanitarian partners across Latin America.
The EU also supports Afghan refugees. Close to 6.5 million Afghans still live as refugees in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan — many without registration or legal status. Over 1.17 million people returned from Iran and Pakistan in 2021. The influx of returnees has strained the capacity of existing services. It has also caused concerns about their reintegration and living conditions.
Myanmar and Bangladesh
Violence in northern Rakhine (Myanmar), which began in 2017, has forced more than 919,000 Rohingya refugees to flee to Bangladesh. Cox’s Bazar remains the biggest refugee camp in the world, hosting over 870,000 refugees Rohingya remain vulnerable to exploitation and serious protection risks.
Living in refugee camps, they depend entirely on humanitarian aid. In 2022, the EU is providing over €41 million in humanitarian aid in response to the Rohingya refugee crisis. This funding also supports efforts to reduce the impact of natural hazards in highly affected parts of Bangladesh.
Helping refugees worldwide
Through its humanitarian funding, the EU aims to meet the most urgent needs of the most vulnerable refugee populations, including women, children and people with disabilities. We continue to support refugees during their displacement and when they return home.
In the words of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, “One hundred million is a stark figure — sobering and alarming in equal measure. It’s a record that should never have been set.”
By Jaime Camacho Garcia and Yolanda Valassopoulou with contributions from Hanna-Kaisa Lepik, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.