UN refugee chief praises European response to Ukraine exodus

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The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has praised European countries welcoming people fleeing the war in Ukraine, whose numbers now surpass two million.

“The response by Europe has been remarkable,” Grandi said in a statement on Tuesday, while urging other nations to step up.

He added that a European Union (EU) temporary protection directive, announced last Thursday, “offers the refugees security and options, a chance for stability during a time of great upheaval”.

Grandi, head of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, spent five days in the region where he met with refugees, humanitarian workers, local responders and governments.

Though heartened by the European response, he remains deeply saddened for Ukraine and its people.

“At the borders I saw an exodus of people, mostly women and children, along with older refugees and people with disabilities.

“They arrived shocked and deeply impacted by the violence and their arduous journeys to safety. Families have been senselessly ripped apart.

“Tragically, unless the war is stopped, the same will be true for many more,” he said.

Ukrainians have been streaming into neighbouring countries since the start of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24.

The majority, more than 1.2 million, have headed to Poland. Others have crossed into Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia and beyond.

Grandi reported that UNHCR is supporting coordination of the humanitarian response.

“Scores of experts and tens of millions of dollars of aid” have also been deployed to support governments with providing material and cash assistance, while protection teams have been reinforced to address the needs of women and children.

The UN refugee chief, however, called on the international community to step up to provide more support for refugees and host communities, particularly in Moldova. Some 250,000 people have found refuge there.

“All European states must continue to show generosity. Other countries, beyond Europe, also have an important role to play to help people in need and share the international responsibility for millions of refugees,” Grandi said.

While in the region, the UN refugee chief also raised concerns about discrimination and racism against some communities fleeing Ukraine. Authorities have assured him that they will not discriminate or turn away people escaping to safety.

Meanwhile, the situation inside Ukraine remains shocking, as people seek to shelter from the fighting in any way they can.

As of Monday, some 1,335 casualties were recorded, including 474 deaths, according to the UN human rights office, OHCHR, though real figures are believed to be considerably higher.

UN Spokesperson, Mr Stéphane Dujarric said on Tuesday that UN teams and open sources both reported heavy fighting in the east and northeast, including in and around Mariupol, Chuhuiv, Kharkiv, Izyum, Chernihiv, Sumy and Sievierodonetsk.

Extremely violent clashes were also reported in the north, on the outskirts of the capital Kyiv, including Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin.

People trapped in some of these areas lack access to supplies, said Dujarric, speaking during his daily briefing in New York.

“We welcome public communications by the two sides regarding their intention to facilitate safe passage for civilians out of conflict areas including Mariupol, Kharkiv and Sumy,” he told journalists.

Humanitarians are scaling up response in the east and west, as security allows.

UN partner, the International Committee of the Red Cross has provided more than 200,000 medical items to mobile clinics, while Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has delivered roughly 120 cubic metres of medical supplies to the country.

Dujarric said focus in the west is primarily on supporting internally displaced people. UN migration agency, IOM, has so far delivered more than 18,000 high thermal blankets, while UNHCR has provided thermal blankets and mattresses for 6,000 people.

He added that humanitarians have established a common operations coordination centre in Rzeszow, Poland, for all organisations responding to the crisis in Ukraine and neighbouring countries.

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