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News blog19 June 2022Directorate-General for Communication

World Refugee Day – A day to celebrate courage and empathy

Monday 20 June is World Refugee Day. As UNHCR says, this is a day to honour refugees. It is a day to build empathy and to celebrate courage.

It is based on principles established in the Geneva Convention, inspired to protect Europeans who fled their homes after World War Two, principles again proving essential in protecting those fleeing another war of aggression on European soil.

From February 24, 2022, 14 million people from Ukraine – a European country – suddenly had to show that courage. Almost overnight, they were forced to confront the reality that they were now refugees. Half of that number were internally displaced. A displacement that is ongoing, with the horrific Russian onslaught in the Donbas region.

The other half fled to European Union countries and to Moldova. As a direct response, millions upon millions of other Europeans stepped up to show their empathy and solidarity. 

The EU Member States bordering Ukraine, and most importantly their people, in Poland, Romania and Slovakia, opened their arms and their homes. They were soon joined in this extraordinary action by the Czech Republic, by Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia.  Eventually 2.8 million would also arrive in EU Member States, big and small, not bordering Ukraine. 

This action was immediate, it was universal, and it was necessary. Driven by the overriding urge to help neighbours in need. It is that simple. 

And not only neighbours. 209,000 third country nationals also arrived in the EU, many from India and Turkey and many of those students. The logistical efforts to ensure they were given safe passage to their families were rapid and successful. It did not matter where these people came from. It just mattered that they were safe.

The response was seen in the immediate support to Moldova. Frontex officers arriving within weeks, alongside logistical and financial support, and relocation efforts taking vulnerable people to EU Member States.

I was proud to facilitate the European Member States reaction, by passing the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD). Giving refugees fleeing Ukraine immediate protection and rights to housing, jobs, schools, and social support.

With the French Presidency of the EU, and Minister Darmanin, we were able, on 3 March, to announce the unanimous agreement of this measure. Only one week after Putin’s illegal invasion, every European Union Member State was now working from the same emergency playbook. A stunning response of EU unity to those fleeing invasion. 

Now on 22 June we are approaching 3.5 million people registered under the TPD. 
On World Refugee Day I would like to also highlight how this spirit of working together has brought new vigour to the long-term prospects of the Europeanisation of Migration policy. The French Presidency is coming to a very successful conclusion, particularly on the migration pact. At the last Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA) on 10 June, political agreement was reached through the linkage of a solidarity declaration to progress on the screening and fingerprinting of irregular arrivals at the EU external border. We expect the operational formalisation of this agreement before the conclusion of the French Presidency. 

An essential part of the progress on the pact has been the deepening of our work with third countries. There is much to note over the last 12 months in the European Union’s global response in helping refugees and the countries receiving them. 

Whether it was in the crisis response to the situation in Afghanistan, and the resettlement efforts that followed, or the intensive, and ongoing, cultivation of ties with countries along established migration routes. 

And developing legal pathways that provide a safe and secure route to those who moving.

And let’s remember that over 80% of the 100 million refugees in the world are still hosted in developing countries, the vast majority of those countries following the same path in providing shelter to those fleeing conflict in neighbouring countries.

The events since 24 February have also given Europeans a renewed sense of appreciation that our European values and way of life mean providing shelter to those in need.  This is reflected in Europe, and around the world (IPSOS survey, 17 June).

Our European way of life is based on our values. Those values will always be reflected in our polices.

Let’s remember those Ukrainians who are refugees, or who remain in the country literally fighting, are doing so, so that Ukraine can take its place as part of the European family.

A process that last week took an important formal step forward in the recommendation for candidate status for Ukraine by the European Commission. That shows how precious our values are in others’ eyes. On World Refugee Day 2022 we can remind ourselves of that. And that our democratic society is based on a range of rights that protects us from oppression and on a sense of duty to those under oppression who are forced to begin new lives as refugees.

Blog Johansson



Publication date
19 June 2022
Directorate-General for Communication