​Fleeing Ukraine: Implementing temporary protection at local levels

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced millions of people to flee. Arriving in EU countries, they received protection in EU law under the Temporary Protection Directive. Many have begun to build a new life in their host country and enrich our societies in new ways. Local authorities took the lead in ensuring access to fundamental rights under temporary protection. This report explores the measures to ensure access to housing, education, employment and healthcare in 26 cities and regional authorities across 12 EU Member States. Despite unprecedented coordination and cooperation to overcome challenges, many uncertainties remain. Longer-term solutions will be needed after the directive expires in March 2025. Based on the information collected, the report identifies 12 priority actions and builds on FRA’s bulletins and survey findings on experiences of people displaced from Ukraine.

Right across the EU, people have shown huge empathy for those fleeing Ukraine. European municipalities, local authorities, cities and villages warmly welcomed them. Governments responded rapidly and came up with innovative solutions. Extraordinary cooperation and coordination between civil society organisations, the private sector and governments supported people find homes, schools and start to build a new life in a new place. We know from our survey research that many people feel part of the community in their host country and feel valued. Their arrival enriches our societies in new ways.

Many administrative challenges that could have taken years to overcome were done in a matter of weeks and months. The EU’s temporary protection directive – triggered for the first time – entitled people fleeing Ukraine to access certain rights. It shows that protection-related mechanisms can work, quickly and effectively.

But the practical obstacles are not always easily overcome, as this report shows. Language barriers affect access to employment and meaningful participation in education. Limited capacity in healthcare systems to address deep psychological needs arising from experiences of trauma is a real concern. Many people have serious financial worries, considering the affordability of housing in a context where the cost of living has been rising rapidly.

Now, add in the uncertainty of whether you will be allowed to stay as a ‘temporary’ beneficiary in the EU. Not knowing how long someone will stay in a certain town, city, or country inevitably also causes uncertainty and general confusion for local authorities trying to support these people. On top of this, many local authorities are already struggling to meet existing demands from the local population.

This has ramifications for fundamental rights. There are many obstacles to accessing housing, education, employment and healthcare. As just a snapshot, this report shows the challenges facing local authorities in their efforts to implement the temporary protection directive.

We must acknowledge that longer-term solutions are needed. Many people have built a new life in the EU and may wish to stay. And yet, there is an obvious incompatibility of temporary protection status being applied long-term. To ensure full access to rights in practice, we must reframe our thinking to take a longer-term perspective.

Local efforts to support people fleeing Ukraine made life bearable in those first few horrifying weeks and months of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There are many examples of innovative good practices by European municipalities and regions. We can learn from this experience and improve our responses to future challenges. We can also be heartened by the tremendous show of solidarity in the face of such threats, where unprecedented action and immense cooperation made the impossible seem possible.

Michael O’Flaherty