Sweden to accept fewer Ukrainians than in 2015 as number of displaced people near four million mark

Since the war began on Feb.24, more than 3.8 million people have fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations' refugee agency.

Published: 28th March 2022 11:04 PM  |   Last Updated: 28th March 2022 11:04 PM   |  A+A-

A refugee fleeing the war from neighbouring Ukraine walks with a baby in her arms after crossing the border by ferry at the Isaccea-Orlivka border crossing in Romania. (Photo | AP)


BERLIN: Sweden's prime minister says her country will help refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine but won't take in the kind of share it did during the influx of 2015.

Magdalena Andersson told reporters in Berlin on Monday that "we will do our part in helping Ukrainian refugees, but we cannot come back to the situation we had in 2015 when Sweden took a disproportionate part of the asylum seekers."

Andersson, a member of the Social Democratic Party, said Sweden accepted about 12% of the total number of refugees coming to the European Union in 2015, despite having only 2% of the bloc's population.

"We cannot come back to that kind of solution, but of course we will do our part and we are right now , of course, also welcoming Ukrainians that are coming to Sweden today, yesterday and during the last weeks," she said after a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Since the war began on Feb.24, more than 3.8 million people have fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations' refugee agency.

A slowdown for good or a temporary lull during the storm of war? While the number of refugees who have flooded out of Ukraine nears 4 million, fewer people have crossed the border in recent days.

Border guards, aid agencies and refugees themselves say Russia's unpredictable war on Ukraine offers few signs whether it's just a pause or a permanent drop-off.

Some Ukrainians are sticking it out to fight or help defend their country.

Others have left their homes but are staying elsewhere in Ukraine to wait and see how the winds of war will blow.

Still others are elderly or sick and need extra help moving anywhere.

And some remain, as one refugee put it, because "homeland is homeland."

In the first two weeks after Russia's invasion on Feb.24, about 2.5 million people in Ukraine's pre-war population of 44 million left the country to avoid the bombs and bloodshed.

In the second two weeks, the number of refugees was roughly half that.

The total exodus now stands at 3.87 million, according to the latest tally announced Monday from UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, which includes figures up through Sunday.

But in the previous 24 hours, only 45,000 crossed Ukraine's borders to seek safety, the slowest one-day count yet.

"People who were determined to leave when war breaks out fled in the first days," explained Anna Michalska, a spokeswoman for the Polish border guards.

Even if the exodus is easing, there's no understating the scope of it.

UNHCR says the war has triggered Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II, and the speed and breadth of refugees fleeing to countries including Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia, as well as Russia, is unprecedented in recent times.

Poland alone has taken in 2.3 million refugees and Romania nearly 600,000.

The United States has vowed to take in 100,000.

Even the devastating 11-year war in Syria, source of the world's biggest refugee crisis, didn't force out so many people so fast.

The International Organization for Migration recently estimated that about 6.5 million people in Ukraine have been driven from their homes by the Russian invasion but remain displaced inside the country, suggesting that a large pool of potential refugees still awaits.

IOM said another 12 million are believed to be trapped in places where fighting has been intense, or don't want to leave.

Jewish groups have begun an effort to bring frail Holocaust survivors out of Ukraine, but each person requires a team of rescue workers to extract such refugees.

"Now I'm too old to run to the bunker. So I just stayed inside my apartment and prayed that the bombs would not kill me," said 83-year-old Holocaust survivor Tatyana Zhuravliova, a retired doctor who last week was relocated to a nursing home in Germany.

Michalska, the Polish border guard spokeswoman, suggested that many Ukrainians who had fled had left the areas most affected by war, and future fighting could determine whether other civilians in other areas decide to flee.

"We cannot exclude that there will be more waves of refugees in the future," Michalska told The Associated Press.

A plane carrying members of a Russian delegation has landed in Istanbul ahead of talks with Ukrainian negotiators aimed at ending the month-long war.

Turkey's private DHA news agency said the Russian government plane landed at Istanbul Airport on Monday.

The face-to-face talks between the two sides are scheduled to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that Ukraine could declare neutrality, potentially accept a compromise on contested areas in the country's east, and offer security guarantees to Russia to secure peace "without delay."

He said only a face-to-face meeting with Russia's leader could end the war.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday that the two presidents could meet, but only after the key elements of a potential deal are negotiated.

Earlier talks, held both by video and in person, failed to make progress on ending the war that has killed thousands and driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes - including almost 4 million from their country.

NATO-member Turkey has close relations with both Ukraine and Russia.

Earlier this month, it hosted a meeting between the two countries' foreign ministers.

customers if they reject the demand to pay for the Russian gas in rubles, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that "we clearly aren't going to supply gas for free.'


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