The EU Member States have given the go-ahead to the Commission's proposal to provide temporary protection to refugees from the war in Ukraine on a quasi-automatic basis.
Now, the Temporary Protection Directive from 2001, which aims to relieve the pressure on the Member States' traditional asylum systems with the massive influx of refugees, is activated for the first time.
On Thursday, the proposal was adopted unanimously. In practice, this means that fleeing Ukrainians will not have to go through an asylum procedure, but will immediately receive protection in the EU.
"Everyone has slept very little, but this is what we do it for. The terrible suffering in Ukraine is far from solved with this, but this is the only right decision," said Belgian State Secretary Sammy Mahdi on Twitter. He thanked all the Belgian diplomats who helped make the rapid adoption of the directive possible, and called the unanimous "historic."
"Yesterday, an agreement seemed far too early, but today we have worked at speeds that Europe thought impossible," Mahdi added. "This is proof that it is possible, if only we want it."
The temporary protection lasts for a year, but can be extended by up to two years. It can also be terminated earlier if the situation in Ukraine would allow for the safe return of the refugees.
On Saturday, there was talk of 100,000 people fleeing from Ukraine, that figure has now risen to over one million. In one week, one million people have fled to the EU, according to a press release from Mahdi.
In the refugee crisis period of 2015, 1.3 million people fled to the EU over the period of one year, which shows the size of the refugee population and the absolute necessity to activate this directive.
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In the meantime, more than 10,000 housing spaces have been made available to Ukrainian refugees in Belgium following the #plekvrij or #placedispo ('free space' in Dutch and French, respectively) campaign Mahdi launched on Monday, for residents and municipalities to offer temporary shelter.
Some 8,000 spaces were registered as of Wednesday, and 499 of the 581 municipalities responded to Mahdi’s call saying they are willing to offer help. "And meanwhile, the counter of #FreeSpace is at +10,000," he tweeted Thursday morning.