Ukrainian refugees are second largest number in the world after Syrians – IOM

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 resulted in one of the largest and fastest displacements in Europe since the Second World War, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in its World Migration Report 2024, released on May 7.

Millions of Ukrainians have been displaced to neighbouring countries, and by end of 2022, Ukraine was the origin of nearly 5.7 million refugees, the second largest number in the world after the Syrian Arab Republic, IOM said.

Close to 2.6 million Ukrainians were hosted in neighbouring countries such as Poland, the Republic of Moldova and Czechia, and another three million in other European countries and further afield.

Germany hosts the largest number of refugees in Europe (around two million), seven per cent of all refugees in the world.

Most refugees in Germany at the end of 2022 originated from Ukraine and Syria.

The Russian Federation, Poland and France hosted the second, third and fourth largest refugee populations in the region, IOM said.

Ukraine recorded the largest internal conflict displacements in the world in 2022, the result of the Russian Federation’s full-scale invasion, the report said.

Nearly 17 million displacements (around 40 per cent of the country’s population) were recorded in Ukraine by the end of 2022, the largest figure the country has ever recorded.

The massive number of conflict displacements in Ukraine in 2022 was also the highest in the world.

By April 2023, more than eight million refugees from Ukraine had been recorded across Europe, while nearly six million people had been internally displaced in Ukraine at end of 2022.

Most refugees had fled to neighbouring countries such as Poland, Czechia, Bulgaria and Romania, among others.

By April 2023, Poland was host to more than 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees.

The overwhelming majority of Ukrainian refugees are women and children, as most men – between the ages of 18 and 60 – were required to remain in the country and fight, the IOM said.

“As the war continues, the situation in Ukraine remains dire for many, including those who remain in the country under threat from the fighting, while also having to contend with outages of water, electricity, heating and the disruption of key services such as medical care,” the report said.

Largely due to the lack of decent employment prospects and the search for better paying jobs, many people have left the South-Eastern and Eastern Europe subregion, often to work in Western and Northern Europe, it said.

Countries such as Albania and Moldova are some of the hardest hit; around 40 per cent of Albania’s workforce, for example, is estimated to be working abroad, contributing to brain and brawn drain and putting pressure on local industries and economies that constantly lose workers in both low-skilled and high-skilled sectors.

High rates of poverty, wage gaps between Albania and other countries in the region, significant corruption and clientelism, among other factors, contribute to people’s decisions to leave the country.

The IOM said that a similar trend can be seen in Moldova, with around a quarter of its “economically active” population working outside the country.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine that has resulted in a cost-of-living crisis across the world, including in countries in the subregion, has forced even more Moldovans to leave the country.

“Other countries such as Bulgaria and Serbia are no exceptions and continue to see many of their young people leave,” the IOM said.

While many who leave are regular migrant workers who end up working in the Russian Federation or in countries within Western and Northern Europe, there has also been an increase in the number of irregular migrants from some countries in the subregion.

While it is widely acknowledged that immigration is important in addressing the negative impacts of population decline in several South-Eastern and Eastern European countries, the approach has tended to focus on increasing birth rates (including through financial incentives), the IOM said.

“Immigration is often viewed with suspicion and, in several countries, even curtailed through restrictive immigration policies and political rhetoric meant to discourage migrants from either entering or settling in some of these countries.”

Irregular migration from, to and through South-Eastern and Eastern Europe, including by people from within and outside the subregion, remains a key challenge, the report said.

Often with the assistance of smugglers, the South-Eastern and Eastern Europe subregion is a major transit area and characterized by mixed migration flows, particularly for migrants trying to reach Western and Northern Europe.

The latest available international migrant stock data (2020) show that nearly 87 million international migrants lived in Europe211, an increase of nearly 16 per cent since 2015, when around 75 million international migrants resided in the region.

A little over half of these (44 million) were born in Europe, but were living elsewhere in the region; this number has increased since 2015, rising from 38 million. In 2020, the population of non-European migrants in Europe reached over 40 million, the report said.

(Archive photo from March 2022: UNHCR/ Chris Melzer)

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