Belgian Asylum and Migration Minister Sammy Mahdi said on Monday that anyone entering EU territory from war-torn Ukraine will immediately acquire refugee status lasting two years without question.
Mahdi told RTL radio that this rule-change, to be applied from Monday by all 27 EU Member States, stemmed from a Belgian request to activate an emergency directive sitting dormant since 2001. He did not discuss the potential impact of this decision for nationals of other territories.
The legislation granting this "automatic protection" refugee status bypasses normal asylum procedures and will be formally adopted in Belgium on Thursday, although it is already being applied today.
'Reassessed after 2 years'
"Over a 12-month period, this status can be twice extended for six months at a time, so it's two years in total. After that, we will obviously evaluate the situation in Ukraine," Mahdi told Bel-RTL.
He said that Belgium was ready to welcome its share of refugees, though early indications suggested many "prefer to remain in the region, in neighbouring (EU) countries where they might have family".
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However, "Ukrainians who arrive in Belgium will not have to undergo certain procedures. They will automatically receive protection and can immediately set about building a life in Belgium."
This unconditional approval is different to the process that those seeking asylum in Belgium must normally go through although there are other instances of applications that have been fast-tracked; notably, when Belgium bypassed normal procedures in the case of two stowaways who fled regional tensions inside Ethiopia.