Industrial relations and social dialogue

Policies to support refugees from Ukraine

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the mass immigration of refugees into the EU – over 5 million to date, according to the UNHCR – has put European societies under pressure. EU and national-level policymakers together with civil society reacted quickly to accommodate the waves of fleeing Ukrainians. The Temporary Protection Directive grants displaced Ukrainians temporary refugee status, which gives them various rights, including the right to residence, social protection, access to work, education and healthcare. This article summarises the first policy responses of the Member States, including those of the social partners and other civil society actors, enabling refugees to exercise these rights. It is based on an analysis of policy initiatives compiled by the Network of Eurofound Correspondents and recorded in Eurofound’s EU PolicyWatch database.

Introduction

On 4 March 2022, the Council of the European Union unanimously voted in favour of the European Commission’s proposal to activate the Temporary Protection Directive. [1], [2] This directive is designed to give guidance to Member States on managing a mass arrival of refugees into the EU. Through this directive, refugees have the right to temporary protection for one year, which can be extended for up to three years, without the need to go through lengthy asylum procedures. In addition to a residency permit, refugees from Ukraine have access to social protection, healthcare, education, banking services and the labour market. It also enables families to reunite in their host country and allows refugees to move freely to other Member States under specific circumstances.

In addition, the Council agreed to the European Commission’s proposal to initiate a more flexible way of using cohesion funds, which allows Member States and regions to support refugees through the Cohesion’s Action for Refugees in Europe (CARE) package. The package also topped up the Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories of Europe (REACT-EU) facility by €3.4 billion. Member States can obtain up to 100% EU funding for certain measures and may avail of existing instruments, such as the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) or the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) to address the needs of refugees flexibly.

Since the start of the war, Eurofound’s EU PolicyWatch database has recorded new and modified policies that were adopted to support refugees from Ukraine. By mid-June, a total of 144 policies were reported, mainly related to access to housing (19%), education (13%), healthcare (8%) and social protection (6%), as well as access to labour markets and active labour market policies (22%).

Reception and initial support

As an immediate emergency measure, Member States had to increase their capacity to receive refugees. For example, the Italian government topped up the resources of the Ministry of the Interior by €50 million and added 3,000 places to reception facilities. Spain approved a new loan of €1.2 billion to set up four new reception and referral centres in Madrid, Barcelona, Alicante and Malaga, exclusively for refugees from Ukraine. Luxembourg’s government also set up an emergency reception centre that is open around the clock and offers shelter, meals and basic necessities for the first few days after arrival. The Greek government established a new reception centre, with the possibility of a few days’ accommodation, for Ukrainians without travel documents.

Some Member States provided one-off cash allowances to the new arrivals; for example, Bulgaria allocated BGN 375 (€192) per family and Czechia allocated CZK 5,000 (€203) per family, while Croatia offered HRK 2,500 (€332) to individual refugees. Slovenia offers monthly income support starting at €120 for an individual, which increases according to the family situation. Other measures include food vouchers (for instance, in Lithuania and Poland) or free public transport (for example, in Estonia). The authorities in Member States promptly set up web pages containing information for Ukrainians – available in the Ukrainian and Russian languages – to inform them about their rights and to guide them through the various steps to access services or to provide access to resources.

Among the reported examples is the Dutch Refugeehelp.nl website, a portal that connects refugees with volunteers who wish to help by offering housing, food, clothes, goods, donations, healthcare, education and language training, activities, ‘buddies’ and work. Another comprehensive welcome initiative is that of the Estonian Refugee Centre, which provides information and support in various ways, including through group counselling. The group counselling sessions are organised in cooperation with different non-governmental organisations (NGOs), private companies, the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund and the Labour Inspectorate. It covers four broad areas: adaptation, helping children to adapt, digital skills (including the use of the Estonian e-public services) and education and employment. The Greek Ministry of Health provides psychological support through a telephone hotline, which is offered in Ukrainian, Russian and Greek and delivered by professional psychologists from Ukraine who have received relevant training.

Finding a place to live

According to Article 13(1) of the Temporary Protection Directive, Member States are required to ensure that refugees, after an initial period spent in short-term emergency accommodation, have access to more permanent accommodation or, if necessary, are provided with the means to acquire suitable housing. Table 1 summaries the different measures Member States have introduced to accommodate such large numbers of refugees.

Table 1: Overview of policy measures adopted by Member States to accommodate refugees (up to June 2022)

Policy measure

Member State

Direct provision of housing by governmental or semi-governmental organisations

Belgium, Czechia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden

Public funds for housing refugees in tourist accommodation

Bulgaria, Cyprus, Portugal, Slovakia

Rental support for refugees

Czechia, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia

Subsidies for private hosts providing accommodation free of charge

Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia

Relaxation of regulations on the accommodation standards for refugees

Sweden, Norway

Other types of support

Poland (in Ciechanów, real estate tax relief for private hosts), Greece (combination of accommodation in refugee centres and in rented houses and apartments)

Source: EU PolicyWatch database

Several countries have provided increased funds to regions and municipalities for the hosting of reception centres or for refurbishing or building suitable accommodation. In this context, Sweden and Norway have temporarily relaxed building regulations related to the accommodation of refugees to provide housing at a faster pace. In Czechia, through a new programme, municipalities and regions and their organisations can receive state support for repairs or minor reconstruction of houses and apartments owned by them. In Poland, the Social Insurance Institution (ZUS) has a network of training facilities that can be used as temporary accommodation for 1,400 refugees. In Luxembourg, 33 municipalities have committed to provide accommodation; for example, in Schifflange municipality, refugees will be housed in so-called ‘tiny houses’. In Greece, accommodation facilities for Ukrainian refugees have been provided, both in existing refugee accommodation centres and in rented houses and apartments.

In other countries, governments provided funds for accommodating refugees in tourist accommodation. The Cypriot government, for instance, issued a tender for hotels and apartment complexes that could offer at least 50 rooms, at a maximum rate of €60 per room per day for one adult or €85 for two sharing.

Some countries have extended their rental support schemes to cover refugees once they have accessed full social protection or entered lease contracts. Estonia, for example, has expanded its financial support for refugees by giving them one-off compensation when they move to long-term accommodation, to cover initial payments related to renting a property (originally set at a maximum of €900 but subsequently increased to €1,200).

In many Member States, refugees have also been housed by private hosts. Apart from families and acquaintances, private citizens have offered accommodation in their homes and other properties free of charge following calls from NGOs, such as the Red Cross. Several Member States have subsequently introduced subsidies for the hosts (known as ‘solidarity benefit’ in Czechia, for example). In Lithuania, hosts receive €150 per person per month (and €50 for each additional person) from the second month of hosting a refugee, for a maximum of three months. Romanian hosts providing accommodation free of charge receive RON 20 (€4) per day per person for food expenses and RON 50 (€10) per day per person for accommodation. In Poland, hosts received PLN 40 (€8) per person per day.

Social protection

The Temporary Protection Directive ensures that refugees without sufficient resources receive ‘the necessary assistance in terms of social welfare and means of subsistence’ (Article 13(2)). The EU PolicyWatch database contains several examples of how Member States have transposed this requirement into national law.

In Czechia, individuals and organisations providing social services for refugees, such as counselling, care and prevention services, receive a subsidy from the state budget, the amount of which depends on the nature of the services provided. In Belgium, local social service providers receive an increased reimbursement of spending on all Ukrainian refugees within their region. Providers receive a top-up of 35% over the regularly reimbursed rate (which is the so-called ‘living wage’, a minimum income) for the first four months and 25% thereafter, which provides them with extra resources to offer various kinds of assistance to meet the needs of each Ukrainian applicant, whether those needs are material, psychological, financial, etc.

In Germany, the government decided to provide Ukrainian refugees who have successfully applied for a residency permit with the right to access the regular social assistance (SGB XII) and job seekers’ benefits (SGB II) schemes from 1 June 2022, under the same conditions as other residents of Germany. Those participating in university studies or other eligible education and training programmes can receive benefits under the Federal Training Assistance Act (BAföG). In addition, all Ukrainian refugees who do not receive statutory social benefits have the right to join the statutory health insurance. In Poland, refugees under temporary protection have access to a range of social benefits, most of which are targeted at families.

For particularly vulnerable groups of Ukrainian refugees, such as unaccompanied minors, people with disabilities or people who have been tortured, raped or experienced other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, Member States are required to provide necessary medical or other assistance (Article 13(4)). In relation to this, Romania has issued an emergency ordinance defining the rights of unaccompanied minors, people with disabilities and elderly people with restricted mobility, while Croatia provides accommodation specifically for vulnerable groups. In Portugal, an interdisciplinary group has set up a platform to register unaccompanied Ukrainian minors, which will allow them to find foster homes and help them access support structures.

Access to healthcare

According to Article 13(2) of the Temporary Protection Directive, Member States are required to ensure that refugees have access to medical care, including, at least, emergency care and essential treatment of illness. The cases in the EU PolicyWatch database show that Member States have opted for different approaches to meet this requirement.

Slovakia and Romania have introduced provisions regarding access to emergency medical care. Slovakia will reimburse the costs of emergency medical services accessed by refugees upon arrival until they apply for international protection, but excludes reimbursement to people transiting through Slovakia. Romania provides Ukrainian citizens applying for asylum with primary healthcare and treatment, emergency hospital care and medical care and treatment free of charge in cases of acute or chronic life-threatening diseases.

Some Member States go beyond the provision of emergency care and essential treatment of illness by providing refugees with access to healthcare services akin to those of their own citizens. These include Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia. Denmark and Portugal extended these services to refugees who are applying for residence permits, while Austria and Romania extended healthcare services irrespective of refugees’ status. To access medical services in Austria, it is sufficient for a refugee to present a Ukrainian passport or other proof of refugee status if they have a different nationality. Romania provides free medical assistance and care services similar to those provided to Romanian citizens for 90 days after a Ukrainian citizen has legally entered the country.

Estonia, Poland and Portugal provide special medical services for refugees. In Estonia, €20 million from the state budget has been allocated for free initial health checks (including free vaccinations) for refugees, and if needed, continuous treatment is provided for chronic or ongoing conditions. It is also possible to obtain a medical certificate, which is required for employment in certain jobs, and Ukrainian refugees can use their original prescriptions issued in Ukraine to buy prescription medicines. In Portugal, medical consultations in their own language are provided for young people and children upon arrival from Ukraine, while Poland provides additional psychological help for refugees.

Getting into education

As of April 2022, at least 1.6 million children had fled the war in Ukraine. [3] Several Member States have chosen to integrate Ukrainian children into their national education system, in accordance with Article 14 of the Temporary Protection Directive, to ensure that they receive primary and secondary education (Table 2). Countries often provide language-support programmes (such as Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia and Estonia) or adapt their classes so they are taught in English (Denmark and Luxembourg), as Ukrainian pupils start to learn English in the third grade.

Table 2: Overview of policy measures related to access to education for refugees (up to June 2022)

Policy measure

Member States

Schooling – primary and secondary

Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia

Higher education

Croatia, Finland, Norway, Poland, Romania

Hiring of Ukrainian nationals in education

Austria, Latvia, Luxembourg

Source: EU PolicyWatch database

Estonia will provide additional funding to schools amounting to between €353 and €506 per Ukrainian student, depending on the level of education, with a total budget of €70 million allocated for this measure. Czechia has allocated a total of €60 million to provide subsidies of between €6,170 and €3 million to educational institutions that supply intensive Czech language courses or that set up ‘adaptation groups’ aimed at integrating children and developing their Czech language skills.

Greece is including Ukrainian minors in its existing programme for the education of refugee students, which has been in place since 2016. Other Member States have opted to provide funds directly to parents. Lithuania, for instance, covers the monthly costs of pre-school or pre-primary school education, up to 1.6 times the basic social benefit (equal to €67 in 2022), allowing parents to work. Estonia pays a €50 lump sum to cover children’s school supplies, a measure that is entirely funded by donations.

In Slovenia, policy has been introduced to facilitate access to education from pre-school to university level. It provides information through different channels, covers the costs of kindergartens for families without an income, provides transportation and school meals free of charge and has relaxed enrolment procedures. Romania provides schoolchildren fleeing the war in Ukraine – whether they are Ukrainian citizens or not – with access to accommodation in boarding schools, food allowances and supplies such as clothing, footwear and textbooks. Furthermore, children in primary and secondary education have their basic food needs met through ongoing social programmes, and they may be eligible for free transportation.

Aiming to strengthen online resources and distance learning, Norway has allocated €28.65 million for a range of educational programmes, including increasing the number of places in care centres for unaccompanied minor asylum-seekers under 15 years of age, providing education for children and young people applying for residence in Norway and creating teaching aids and materials in Ukrainian for children, young people and adults.

Poland has facilitated access to primary and secondary education with a budget of €71.5 million designed to cover 200,000 Ukrainian children. Measures include relaxing rules on limits to the number of students per class, providing funding for special teaching, educational and care activities and providing access to social scholarships and student loans. Furthermore, Poland has facilitated access to higher education for students from Ukrainian universities by relaxing rules on certifications required to enrol in Polish universities.

Romania has increased the number of places in its universities to allow for the enrolment of students from Ukraine, and provides an accommodation and food subsidy of up to RON 70 (€14) per person per day for up to 90 days. Norway has allocated €6.4 million for 1,000 temporary study places at universities. Students from Ukraine can enrol in Croatian universities, with accommodation and meals provided by the university, and can benefit from Croatian language courses, free of charge. In Finland, the Ministry of Education has allocated €4.5 million to cover the education costs of two groups of Ukrainians: first, higher education costs for Ukrainians previously enrolled in higher education, and second, non-degree education and open higher education courses for people who were not previously enrolled in higher education in Ukraine. The programme also covers advisory services for students.

Various policies enable Ukrainian nationals to be hired as teachers (Austria and Latvia), carers (Latvia) and even intercultural mediators (Luxembourg) to facilitate the integration of Ukrainian children in the education system.

While the social partners have not participated in the design of these measures, in Croatia and Cyprus, they have expressed their support for the inclusion of refugees in their national education systems. In other Member States, the social partners have voiced concerns or issued recommendations by calling for an increased number of teachers (Luxembourg), for further regulation to ensure appropriate solutions to integrating refugee children in schools (Denmark), and for the expansion of measures to the national level (Finland). In Greece, the Primary Teachers’ Federation has criticised the differential treatment of Ukrainian refugees and nationals, while in Slovenia, the media has highlighted similar concerns regarding Ukrainian refugees and refugees of other origins.

Labour market access

In line with Article 12 of the Temporary Protection Directive, refugees from Ukraine have the right to access the labour market as employees or self-employed, ‘subject to rules applicable to the profession’. Member States may, however, give priority to EU citizens and some other groups. [4] The examples gathered by Eurofound show that several countries waived labour market restrictions for Ukrainians, who were regarded as third-country nationals before the war. These restrictions include, for instance, the requirement for jobseekers to obtain a work permit or for employers to apply for the temporary employment of Ukrainians, or to adhere to other rules concerning the employment of third-country nationals.

In Latvia, employers are no longer required to register the vacancy with the State Employment Agency, and they can also hire Ukrainian refugees at a pay rate lower than the national average wage. The requirement to pay at least the national average wage for the employment of third-country nationals had restricted labour market access to higher-earning workers only. In Austria, when employing Ukrainians under temporary protection, Austrian employers do not have to undergo any further labour market tests and do not have to prove that there is no other Austrian or non-Austrian worker readily available who would be able and willing to fill the post under the legal framework (the so-called ‘substitute worker procedures’).

For regulated professions, such as education or healthcare, Member States can still request the required proof of qualification under established procedures. Given the large number of refugees entering the country, Poland introduced simplified procedures for Ukrainian healthcare personnel to access work: a person from Ukraine with the right to practice their profession is allowed to do so, but only in a medical entity, and they are obliged to notify the Ministry of Health about the chosen medical institution and planned duration of employment within seven days from the date of starting work. In Latvia, qualified medical practitioners or nurses can work under the management of someone in the same specialisation with at least five years of work experience. Latvia additionally simplified access for Ukrainians to several professions, including in the education and childcare sectors, when caring for Ukrainian minors. For taxi drivers, it waived prerequisites on knowledge of the Latvian language and the requirement to have a Latvian driver’s licence.

Finding work

As well as guaranteeing refugees access to employment, Article 12 of the Temporary Protection Directive requires Member States to aid refugees in finding work by enabling them to participate in educational opportunities for adults, vocational training and practical workplace experience.

Public employment services are typically the main institution that provide support for finding work to the newly arrived. But the mapping of initial policy responses shows that a number of other bodies also do so, notably employer organisations and governmental institutions.

The range of measures for refugees is broad (Table 3). It spans early stage interventions, such as providing information on finding work, job orientation and career guidance and special job-matching platforms. It also includes the provision of access to training and qualifications, language courses and employment subsidies.

Table 3: Overview of policy measures aimed at providing access to work and support in finding work (up to June 2022)

Policy measure

Member State

Granting full labour market access, waiving restrictions that typically apply to third-country nationals

Austria, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Romania

Easier access to certain professions

Latvia, Poland, Slovenia

Information provision, orientation, career guidance

Belgium, Bulgaria, Slovakia

Job-matching platforms

Bulgaria, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia

Training and qualification measures

Denmark, Germany, Slovakia

Employment subsidies

France, Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia

Support for (smaller) Ukrainian businesses

Lithuania, Poland

Source: EU PolicyWatch database

The Slovak Offices of Labour, Social Affairs and Family provides comprehensive job search support. A career guidance professional helps the refugee to identify their professional goals, match them to suitable jobs, support them to contact employers, help them to fill out the forms, provide information about active labour market measures and educational opportunities, and to overcome barriers to their integration in the labour market. The guidance process comprises three face-to-face meetings, each of which lasts about three hours.

Several Member States have also set up new online job-matching platforms dedicated to helping Ukrainian refugees find work. In Czechia, the Jobs4UA.cz website is an initiative of the Czech Business and Investment Development Agency in cooperation with the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Chamber of Commerce and the main employer organisations. In Denmark, Partnerskab om ukrainere I job is a newly established partnership between the government, the social partners, the National Association of Municipalities and the Danish regions, aiming to help Ukrainian refugees access the labour market by providing guidance material and information about available job opportunities. In Bulgaria, where 70% of refugees surveyed said they would be ready to take up a job, a Job Dashboard was established by the Employment Agency, which also organises face-to-face recruitment events. In Estonia, the Unemployment Insurance Fund set up a website with job vacancies for Ukrainians.

Only three countries to date have opened up training and qualification measures for Ukrainian refugees. Denmark has established a basic integration training programme, which provides training and practical work experience. The programme lasts two years and combines employment, a paid internship at a company, with school-based education. In Germany, Ukrainian refugees with a temporary residency permit can take part in integration and language courses. The standard integration course usually includes 700 lessons and costs participants €1,540, however it is offered free to Ukrainian refugees. By the end of May, it was reported that over 80,000 Ukrainian refugees had been given access to such courses. Finally, Slovakia has given refugees under temporary protection access to the education and training courses offered by the Labour Offices under the Help to Refugees project.

Employment subsidies for refugees from Ukraine have been put in place, for instance, in Latvia, which provides a one-off allowance to employers, equivalent to the current minimum wage of €500, for each Ukrainian refugee hired. The Hungarian government subsidises 50% of the costs of accommodation and commuting to companies employing Ukrainian refugees for one year, with the option to extend beyond that. In Slovakia, the Office of Labour, Social Affairs and the Family can support job creation for jobseekers from Ukraine through a number of instruments. Under one measure, employers can receive a contribution to finance volunteering activities by refugees, such as working in a community centre as a language teacher or social worker, cleaning public green spaces, caring for dependent people, including children, or carrying out household tasks. Employers receive a maximum monthly contribution of €110 per month, and the Ukrainian volunteer receives a flat rate of €218.

Lithuania provides job creation or relocation support for small Ukrainian businesses through a new version of its existing Startuok financial instrument, which is financed by the European Regional Development Fund. This enables Ukrainian citizens and businesses wishing to start up in Lithuania to obtain soft loans for business start-up or working capital with an interest rate one-third lower than the normal rate.

In Poland, the Polish Investment and Trade Agency helps with office space for Ukrainian businesses, while the Polish Minister for Culture can provide authors and artists from Ukraine with a special form of assistance consisting of in-kind support and financial support, such as scholarships. Moreover, the ministry and subordinate agencies and related institutions are required to ensure that Ukrainian artists have appropriate living conditions to continue their artistic, scientific and didactic activities or research in the field of art, professional or artistic development.

Conclusion

With the activation of the Temporary Protection Directive, the EU has reacted quickly to cope with the mass immigration of refugees from Ukraine. Funds and facilities have been or are proposed to be put in place to finance the required measures, but it will be up to the Member States to implement the provisions of the directive. Many of the measures reported in this article are still at an early stage in Q2 2022, and it is expected that other countries will follow suit in the roll-out of these measures. The scale of support for refugees from Ukraine is unprecedented, but the preferential rights they have been granted compared to refugees from other countries, who must undergo the established asylum procedures, has already sparked criticism from some NGOs and the media.

In contrast to the COVID-19-related measures that were adopted from 2020 onwards, which are also captured in the EU PolicyWatch database, governmental measures to support refugees from Ukraine were passed with very limited social partner involvement, where social partner consultation was the exception rather than the rule. In general, the social partners have supported the measures to welcome refugees fleeing from the war in Ukraine, and in some instances have expressed ideas on how these programmes can be improved.

The uncertainty over how long the conflict will drag on and how many refugees will stay in the medium or even long term makes designing and implementing these measures difficult. Eurofound’s EU PolicyWatch database will track the evolution of these measures over time and how the Member States continue to adapt to the rising challenges.


References

  1. ^ European Commission (2022), Proposal for a Council implementing decision establishing the existence of a mass influx of displaced persons from Ukraine within the meaning of Article 5 of Council Directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001, and having the effect of introducing temporary protection, COM(2022) 91 final 2022/0069 (NLE), Brussels.
  2. ^ Council of the European Union (2022), Council Directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001 on minimum standards for giving temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons and on measures promoting a balance of efforts between Member States in receiving such persons and bearing the consequences thereof, Brussels.
  3. ^ UNHCR (2022), Ukraine emergency: Children fleeing Ukraine – The advocacy agenda for action.
  4. ^ This includes citizens of states bound by the Agreement on the European Economic Area and also to legally resident third-country nationals who receive unemployment benefit.



Image © Vanya/Adobe Stock photos

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Přidat komentář