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EU agrees to offer Ukraine refugees temporary right to live and work in member states

The decision allows people fleeing the war to obtain a residence permit in the EU and opens their access to education and the labour market.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Mar 3rd 2022, 6:22 PM

THE EUROPEAN UNION has decided to grant temporary protection to refugees from Ukraine that will enable them to live, work and study in EU countries.

The decision will allow people fleeing the war in Ukraine to obtain a residence permit in the EU, which will also give them access to education and the labour market.

The temporary protection directive uses a mechanism that was drawn up in the early 2000s in response to wars in former Yugoslavia, but which has not been implemented before.

It is understood that the measure will officially come into effect from tomorrow and that it will be available for anyone in Ireland that has already arrived under the visa waiver scheme, which waived visa requirements for Ukrainian people who travel to Ireland.

450 people have come to Ireland from Ukraine so far since Russia’s invasion began last week.

There were was no decision made today in terms of the number of people individual EU countries may be asked to take in.

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, who attended the meeting where the decision to implement the directive was made, called it a “historic decision”.

“The EU will give temporary protection to those fleeing the war in Ukraine. The EU stands united to save lives!” she tweeted.

Under a text submitted by the European Commission, refugees from Ukraine and their family members would receive a residence permit and the right to access work and education for an initial year.

That would be renewable every six months for a total of two years. 

Speaking to The Journal, Rachael Bermingham, an Advice and Legal Information Officer at Doras, said that the directive “will allow Ukrainian nationals and those who were resident in Ukraine, including asylum seekers, residency in EU member states”.

“This will allow access to the labour market, social welfare systems, as well as medical care,” Bermingham said.

“In Ireland this is set out in law under section 60 of the International Protection Act 2015. We are awaiting updates from the government with more details of how this will work and how individuals may access the permission.”

In a meeting this afternoon, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told ministers that Ireland will continue to work with the EU and United Nations to put pressure on Russian and support Ukraine.

Ministers agreed that relevant departments and agencies will prepare for potentially significant numbers of people being offered protection in Ireland and explore options for assisting humanitarian efforts in other EU countries.

The Taoiseach said earlier this week that Ireland may take up to “20,000 people to start with”. 

Secretaries general of departments will meet weekly to monitor developments, coordinate actions, and report back to Government.

One million people have fled Ukraine in the seven days since the invasion started, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

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In a statement earlier today, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said that Europe “stands by those in need of protection”.

“All those fleeing Putin’s bombs are welcome in Europe,” von der Leyen said.

“We will provide protection to those seeking shelter and we will help those looking for a safe way home.”

Earlier this week, Ukraine formally entered an application to join the EU.

Presidents of eight eastern European countries signed a letter to the EU calling for Ukraine to be granted candidate status, saying that it “deserves the perspective of EU accession”.

The Taoiseach said that he agreed with the idea of an accelerated process for Ukraine to join the bloc but that he did not know if it would be possible for them to join immediately.

“I don’t know whether it can be done immediately. But I certainly would be a proponent and supporter of accelerating it and making it very clear that they can become members of the European Union,” Martin said.

“I’ve always favoured the acceleration of the European perspective for countries in our neighbourhood.” 

Additional reporting by Christina Finn and AFP

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Lauren Boland

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