​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.

Key findings

When people fleeing the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine arrived in EU countries, local authorities had to provide temporary protection at short notice. They made and sustained remarkable efforts to adequately receive displaced people in cooperation with civil society and other local bodies.

Many local authorities were already overburdened, and resources were scarce. Planning proved to be a major challenge for local authorities in implementing temporary protection due to uncertainty over the number of displaced people and the anticipated duration of their stay. Fluctuating data, or lack thereof, as well as length of stay and type of protection status added further complexity. Additional challenges were insufficient consultation between local authorities and national governments, limited qualified staff, limited financial resources, housing infrastructure and local capacity to provide for those with special needs.

These challenges made it difficult for local authorities to implement support measures to meet demands in the four areas regulated by the Temporary Protection Directive – housing, education, employment and healthcare.

Local accommodation solutions relied on private providers and newly sourced public facilities to provide a fast response, but it was not sustainable in the long term. People had to move frequently. That increased local administrative workload and negatively affected beneficiaries, particularly children attending school.

Local authorities faced several challenges with reimbursing private accommodation providers. Reasons for discontinuing privately provided accommodation included delays, complicated administrative procedures, insufficient allowances, fraud and uncertainty about the continuation of reimbursement. Prior vetting of privately provided accommodation was a significant burden on local authorities. They did not do it systematically in advance everywhere.

Increasing public accommodation capacity was difficult because planning and funding were uncertain. As a result, conditions were poor and posed risks to children and vulnerable people. Information on housing options was sometimes confusing or not available in Ukrainian. Funding was not always correctly assigned, and efforts to acquire funding put additional strain on local authorities.

Many arrivals, such as women with small children and elderly people had special needs. Local housing solutions could not always take them into account. The temporary nature of displaced people’ protection status and the uncertainty of their stay were obstacles to getting housing on private markets.

Children with temporary protection can access education under the same conditions as country nationals in all Member States, except in Slovakia, where they do not have to attend school. A key challenge was that authorities lacked an overview of the number of school-aged displaced children in their areas. Another was that in some places schools did not have enough capacity, or were not well enough prepared, to teach displaced children and provide the educational support they need.

National and local authorities did not always coordinate with each other when distributing displaced children to enrol. That caused uncertainty for schools. Civil society organisations, volunteers and school administrations helped displaced children to integrate in school procedures.

All Member States granted access to employment, self-employment and vocational training. In the locations covered, only a small proportion of temporary protection beneficiaries found a job early on, but employment increased between November 2022 and March 2023.

Temporary protection beneficiaries mainly work in unskilled and semi-skilled occupations across the EU, despite being overqualified for these jobs. Local authorities and public employment agencies tried to make it easier to employ temporary protection holders but faced several challenges. Few beneficiaries registered with public employment services in Austria and Belgium. Procedures for recognising professional qualifications are burdensome and lengthy. Limited availability of childcare is a key barrier, as most temporary protection beneficiaries are women, many of them with children.

Local healthcare providers already had bottlenecks in their systems. They faced additional challenges specific to temporary protection beneficiaries. Those included additional administrative burdens, unclear, insufficient or delayed health insurance coverage, language barriers and uncertainty on identifying and providing for people with special needs.

Based on the information collected, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) identifies 12 priority actions for EU Member States, local authorities and the European Commission in line with the requirements of Articles 13 and 14 of the Temporary Protection Directive. These actions build on FRA’s findings in previous reports on displaced people’s experience in the EU, and the series of bulletins.

Cross-cutting issues

  • Temporary protection is limited in time and not viable in the long term. That particularly affects beneficiaries’ chances of getting housing and employment contracts. Long-term solutions could enhance integration into the labour market. Healthcare and education rights must also, in the long run, go beyond the limited scope set out in the directive and be implemented in light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (the Charter).
  • This is necessary because possible restrictions, for example, to accessing emergency care or excluding adults from the general education system, could affect the full enjoyment of these rights in practice if they were applied in the long term. Member States should therefore consider alternative options for legal status, including simplified access to access to long-term residence. This would help ensure rights-based and sustainable solutions for people displaced by the war who reside in the EU. That is all the more necessary because many intend to stay, with 38 % of respondents to FRA’s survey in 2022 said they would like to stay in their host countries.
  • Coordination between national and local authorities on expected arrivals should be as timely as possible. It should include information concerning education and possible special care needs. They should share this information with schools and healthcare units to ensure better planning. National and local authorities should also coordinate how they assign displaced children to schools, so that they can keep track of the number of children registered in compulsory schooling and their educational paths.
  • Improving data collection at local level on the number of resident temporary protection beneficiaries, including children, would help with planning municipal housing and adjusting education and childcare capacities. Local authorities should collect such data more systematically. This would also facilitate the early identification and use of EU and national funding tools and other support (for example schools receiving funds per pupil).
  • Concerning people with special needs, local and national authorities should interpret the directive broadly. In case of future arrivals, they should prepare to assist people with special needs other than just unaccompanied children and people who have undergone torture or violence, whom the directive mentions as examples. In particular, they should include persons with disabilities, to comply with obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. National authorities should provide guidance to local authorities on how to address special needs in housing, education, employment and healthcare.

Access to housing

  • To support long-term housing solutions, local authorities could consult the various practical measures in this report. Practical measures include repurposing public facilities, cooperation with private sector actors and ways of supporting the transition into independent rental agreements. EU and national funding should be adjusted for changes in occupancy and arrivals, to enable local authorities to secure long-term housing.
  • Where they use private accommodation offers, local authorities should develop mechanisms ensuring systematic prior vetting to rule out safety concerns, in line with the Safe Homes Initiative and guidance of the European Union Agency for Asylum. They could work with non-governmental organisations to do this.

Access to education

  • Local authorities should strengthen efforts to ensure that displaced children are integrated in schools and childcare facilities as early as possible, with due consideration for their language and culture. To help them start attending regular school, preparatory classes should be an integral part of regular curricula and school activities.
  • Parallel online schooling offered by Ukrainian schools can be a significant burden on children if schedules or curricula of Ukrainian and Member State schools are not compatible. This report presents examples of practical efforts to consider compatibility with Ukrainian curricula. Local authorities are encouraged to consult them.

Access to employment

  • National authorities should make sure that procedures for employing temporary protection beneficiaries are flexible. This includes recognition of professional qualifications and facilitating access to the labour market for professions in demand, such as healthcare professionals.
  • National authorities should address the structural barriers that stop temporary protection beneficiaries getting jobs. This includes increasing the provision of high-quality language courses, facilitating quick and affordable procedures to recognise qualifications obtained abroad and establishing adequate and affordable childcare facilities for Ukrainian temporary protection beneficiaries of working age (mainly women) who have family and care responsibilities. Issuing residence permits quickly would further facilitate the employment of temporary protection status holders.
  • Public employment services should provide tailored and targeted assistance to workers with temporary protection, to help them get jobs. Workers with temporary protection should be encouraged to register with public employment services and supported to do so.

Access to healthcare

  • To ensure that the requirements flowing from Article 13 (4) of the Temporary Protection Directive and Article 35 of the Charter work as they should, local and national authorities should continue addressing practical obstacles to providing healthcare. That includes clearly communicating to beneficiaries and healthcare professionals about healthcare rights and setting up procedures for involving interpreters. Where healthcare rights depend on temporary protection permits, the competent national authorities should make sure healthcare rights are accessible while permits are pending.