Ukraine wants EU’s next migration rules to encourage returns – POLITICO – 24 Global News | Latest International Breaking News Today

Ukraine wants EU’s next migration rules to encourage returns – POLITICO – Latest International Breaking News Today

Ukraine is holding exploratory talks with EU officials on the bloc’s future migration rules to try to ensure more of its citizens return home next year and bolster the economy while the war effort puts a massive strain on resources, two EU diplomats familiar with the conversations said.

Weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, millions of Ukrainian refugees fled to the EU under a blanket temporary protection directive granted to all Ukrainians. This was an exceptional measure designed for a mass influx of people who cannot return home.

As of November 2023, 4.2 million people across the bloc benefited from the directive, which runs until March 2025.

Seeking a framework that encourages people to come back, the Ukrainians are holding preliminary discussions to map out what EU rules will look like after March 2025, particularly if the EU makes pledges to support refugees for as long as the war drags on.

In December, army chiefs told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the army needs to mobilize 500,000 men of fighting age amid the backdrop of a failed summer counteroffensive. Under martial law, Ukrainian men between 18 and 60 are not allowed to travel outside the country but 18 percent of the Ukrainian refugees in Europe are men between 18 and 65, according to numbers from Eurostat.

Zelenskyy’s Presidential Office Advisor Serhiy Leshchenko’s said in an interview with a Swiss paper Saturday: “I believe that host countries should stop supporting refugees so that they can return home.”

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When contacted about the remarks by POLITICO, Leshchenko said he was speaking in a personal capacity rather than relaying presidential policy. “But I think my thoughts reflect thoughts of many Ukrainians, who now live in Ukraine, as well as many state officials, who feel for Ukraine’s economic stability,” he said, but added he did not know about the discussions on the temporary protection directive.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

While Kyiv has not made a formal request to the EU on encouraging refugee returns, the EU diplomats said there was some pressure from the Ukrainian side to tighten the future rules to get people back. One of the diplomats added that, for now, this is not a concrete ask from Ukraine’s government, but more exploratory. Both EU diplomats were granted anonymity to speak candidly about conversations.

In the days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, tens of thousands of Ukrainians enlisted, rushing to the frontlines with the army. Now, two years into the fighting, it is estimated more than 750,000 men have fled to Europe.

While the controversial mobilization bill proposing cutting the draft age from 27 to 25 was withdrawn from Parliament and is being re-worked, Ukraine’s Minister of Defense Rustem Umerov said it will be re-submitted: “This law is necessary for the defense of our state and every soldier who is currently at the front. It needs to be approved as soon as possible.”

Once the mobilization law is passed, one of the EU diplomats expected Kyiv to increase pressure.

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A controversial mobilization bill proposing cutting the draft age from 27 to 25 was withdrawn from Parliament | John Moore/Getty Images

On Thursday, EU migration ministers will discuss “alternative avenues” for millions of Ukrainian asylum seekers. If the bloc decides to let the Ukrainian refugees stay as long as the war continues, they can task the European Commission to set up a new system.  

The temporary protection directive, which is legal framework for their protection, has already been extended twice.

A European Commission spokesperson said the “European Union is ready to support Ukraine and all those fleeing Russian bombs for as long as it takes.”

On Tuesday, Russia unleashed a barrage of deadly airstrikes on Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv.

“We are protecting people who have fled Ukraine because of the unsafe situation and we will continue to do so,” Belgian State Secretary for Migration Nicole de Moor, who is presiding over the meeting, told POLITICO. “Even if we don’t know what the situation will be like in March 2025, we have to prepare for different scenarios in the future in the interest of our friends in Ukraine and in the interest of people who fled Ukraine.” 

More than 40 million Ukrainians lived in the country before the war, with current population estimates at approximately 35 million. The EU warned Ukraine’s population could drop to less than 29 million in the next 30 years.

-24 Global News | Latest International Breaking News Today
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