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European ministers on Monday called for a deal on the even distribution of Ukrainian refugees within the 27-nation bloc after millions of people fled across the country’s western borders following Russia’s invasion last month.
The fighting has displaced more than 10 million people and forced nearly 4 million to flee Ukraine in Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War.
Nearly 2.3 million have crossed the border into Poland and European officials said that more had to be done to persuade the new arrivals to travel to other countries within the union.
“We need to more actively distribute refugees within the EU and show solidarity by taking in refugees,” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told reporters as she arrived for a meeting with her EU counterparts in Brussels.
The ministers were to discuss a 10-point plan of financial and other support for countries on the front line of the crisis and to protect vulnerable migrants, including from people traffickers.
Before the war, Ukraine was among the top-five countries whose citizens were being trafficked into the EU, said Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs. The EU’s policing agency Europol last week issued an early warning because of the number of unaccompanied children and other vulnerable people on the move.
Ms Johansson said the number of people arriving in the EU had decreased to 50,000 daily from four times that number during the worst days after the February 24 invasion. She said countries needed to prepare in case of a new surge of people fleeing Ukraine.
“It’s important to incentivise refuges to leave Poland and try to go to other member states, otherwise the situation will not be sustainable,” she told reporters.
The mass movement of people is the biggest crisis in Europe since 2015 when migrants prompted by war and upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa flooded in.
That sparked major disagreements between European countries and led to the rise of anti-migrant parties across the EU.
Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on Monday that the EU could not return to the situation of 2015 when it took 12 per cent of refugees.
“We cannot come back to that kind of distribution but of course we will do our part,” she told reporters after meeting her German counterpart Olaf Scholz in Berlin.
Ministers arriving for Monday’s meeting in Brussels said they were not calling for fixed quotas and that they were determined to collaborate.
Countries neighbouring Ukraine – including EU members Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary – have taken in some of the largest numbers crossing borders.
“This is Europe at its best,” said European Commissioner Margaritis Schinas. “Our four member states that are in the reception line know that they are not alone in dealing with this. We stand next to them.”
Poland was already home to the largest Ukrainian diaspora of about 1.5 million people before the war. The EU has praised the country for absorbing so many people and has promised more aid to help with its efforts.
About 300,000 people have arrived in Germany from Ukraine.
Mr Scholz said other countries now needed to show solidarity after promising to take refugees.
“Now this has to be put into action," he said.
Austria and the Czech Republic have also received large numbers, said EU officials. The Czechs have issued more than 236,000 visas since the start of the war but officials say the actual number of refugees is higher.
The International Rescue Committee, a coalition of 23 charities, said EU nations had to act swiftly to avoid people spending prolonged periods in refugee camps.
“It is now time for the EU and EU countries to work together to put into practice their commitments,” said Stephanie Pope, an Oxfam EU migration expert.