In the few days since the Russian invasion of Ukraine started, over 1.7 million Ukrainians—including children, women, elderly—have already fled their homes, seeking refuge in other nations.
That is not just an extraordinarily large number, considering the invasion happened just days ago, but it is also the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II. During other modern conflicts and crises that resulted in massive displacement, such as Syria and Venezuela, the stock of refugees surpassed the one million mark only after a year or more. In Ukraine, it has happened in days.
This means that, if the conflict continues, the number of Ukrainian refugees will very likely surpass the roughly 6 million refugees that we have seen from Syria or from Venezuela in a matter of months. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has declared that his agency is currently preparing for the possibility of four million Ukrainians fleeing as refugees in the near future. Sadly, given the pace we’ve seen thus far, this might be an understatement.
In light of this humanitarian catastrophe, the United Nations has put forward an appeal of $1.7 billion dollars to assist Ukrainians refugees alongside the hosting communities that will receive them. But even assuming the full appeal is met (and in most cases it’s not), and assuming all of it will go to assist refugees in hosting communities, it will be simply not be enough to meet the needs of the projected 4 million refugees—let alone if that figure turns out to be much greater. Comparing the amount of funding per refugee in this crisis to other refugee crises that I’ve studied in the past makes clear how far short that funding appeal falls.
Based on the figures above, the funding requested (converted to 2015 US dollars for comparison purposes) will result in USD $470 per Ukrainian refugee, compared to over $3,000 per Syrian refugee and $1,500 per South Sudanese refugee. The number is even lower than the $500 per Venezuelan refugee, already the most underfunded refugee crisis in modern history.
Providing funding for refugees and their hosting communities is not only a humanitarian need. It goes well beyond that. It is true that funding should first and foremost go to help these vulnerable populations to cover their basic needs. But a crucial part of the funding needs to go toward investing in infrastructure and other forms of capital in hosting communities, to assure a successful integration of refugees in the medium- to long-term—to the benefit of both refugees and their hosts. And the required investments will be significant. Poland, for instance, has received over 1 million refugees thus far, which corresponds to an increase of about 2.5 percent in population in just a matter of days. Countries such as Moldova and Hungary are experiencing similar flows relative to their populations.
While this humanitarian catastrophe is a direct result of Putin’s ambitions, it is the free world which must provide the example of generosity toward the Ukrainian people. One of the most effective way to do this is not only with more funding towards refugees, but also by widely opening the doors to Ukrainian citizens seeking refuge. Symbolic gestures will not be enough. And given the geopolitics of this conflict, it is NATO countries, first and foremost the United States, who must open their doors, and allow these people in, with no questions asked. The international community can’t fail them again.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.
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