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Professor Alexander Betts writes today in Foreign Affairs about Europe’s response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis and its treatment of asylum seekers from elsewhere. Following on from the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, and record numbers of asylum seekers at the US/Mexico border, he states that “Forced displacement will be a defining challenge of the twenty-first century everywhere. That reality has profound implications for how Europe aids refugees.” He comments that Europe “can no longer act just as a distant donor of humanitarian and development aid; now, it must develop the capacity to welcome large numbers of refugees, no matter where they are from.”

With acts of generosity and solidarity from citizens in countries from Poland and Hungary to the UK, he argues that this may “offer an opportunity for European leaders to push refugee policies in a fairer direction, one that can better accommodate people coming from outside Europe, as well.” The discrepancy in the treatment of different refugee populations is, he states, “contrary to the spirit of international refugee law, which upholds the right of refugees to seek asylum anywhere in the world without discrimination.”

The Ukraine refugee crisis could lead Europe to establish a fairer asylum system built on the current solidarity, or the solidarity could be short-lived and a backlash could ensue. Looking to the longer term, Betts writes that Europe “needs to start making long-term plans beyond this emergency phase… European countries will need to commit both to receiving refugees and to funding their care”, including an equitable relocation scheme.

Europe, he says, “needs to take a leaf out of the playbook usually prescribed to low- and middle-income counties in Africa and Latin America when they take on refugees: to create shared development-based opportunities for refugees and hosts”, citing the examples of Uganda and Colombia. 

In closing, Betts states “The Ukraine crisis is a rare chance for Europe to create refugee policies fit for the twenty-first century.”

Read the article here: The Ukrainian Exodus: Europe Must Reckon with its Selective Treatment of Refugees