A number of European countries have declared plans to return Ukrainian refugees to their homeland, and they plan to cut aid and benefits to Ukrainians.
The Swiss authorities have unveiled a preliminary strategy for the possible return of Ukrainian refugees to their homeland. The document was developed by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM). Although no one can predict when the war in Ukraine will end, the intentions of Swiss officials indicate that temporary protection of Ukrainians may be deactivated as early as 2024 or 2025.
It is expected that the departure will be given from 6 to 9 months after the end of the protection status. According to the Swiss authorities, 80% of Ukrainians will be able to return home voluntarily, i.e., about 70 thousand people). Most of them are women and children. Since refugees are eligible to obtain a Swiss residence permit after 5 years of continuous residence in the country, the authorities believe that they should focus on effectively encouraging the voluntary departure of Ukrainians to their homeland.
The Swiss government notes that forced return by plane would be a last resort. They will not insist on the rapid departure of people who need special support, including about 1,000 unaccompanied children and 1,600 refugees over 75 years of age and with health problems.
The Swiss government is considering initial financial assistance to encourage migrants to leave the country. Payments will range from 1,000 to 4,000 Swiss francs (1,037 and 4,150 euros per person) depending on the period of departure.
In addition to Switzerland, the Czech Republic is also preparing a special program for the voluntary return of Ukrainian refugees home. According to Czech Radio, according to the draft sixth amendment to the law known as lex Ukrajina, on the rights and obligations of Ukrainian refugees in the Czech Republic, the program provides for assistance and reimbursement of part of the costs in case of returning refugees to Ukraine. The Czech government has yet to finalize the type of support for Ukrainians who are interested in returning to Ukraine, but it is clear that sooner or later, most Ukrainian refugees are expected to return.
The Ukrainian government also supports the return of Ukrainians. Back in June 2023, the President’s Office proposed that European partners stimulate the return of refugees to Ukraine by providing financial assistance to Ukrainian refugees to encourage them to return home.
Curtailing aid to refugees
The period of maximum assistance to Ukrainian refugees in the EU seems to have come to an end. Many EU countries are planning to cut social assistance to Ukrainians. In particular, in Germany, where more than one million Ukrainian citizens have been granted asylum since the beginning of the full-scale war, the government intends to reduce funding for foreigners due to a budget deficit of 20 billion euros for the next year and the deteriorating financial situation in the country.
The amount of financial aid for the regions to be used to solve refugee problems will be cut in half. While this year Germany allocated 3.75 billion euros for refugees, next year the amount will be 1.7 billion euros.
The German Ministry of Finance noted that the meeting between the government and representatives of the states on financial assistance to refugees ended without result, and the government expects the federal states to find their own resources for this purpose. This jeopardizes the provision of adequate assistance to refugees and may negatively affect the integration of Ukrainians.
In the summer of 2023, the Czech authorities also cut benefits for Ukrainian refugees who had received temporary protection in that country. Homeowners who have taken in Ukrainians and live with them have had their allowance reduced to 2,400 kroons instead of the previous 3,000 kroons. And for those who have sheltered refugees but do not live with them, payments have been canceled altogether. In addition, on October 1, Prague canceled travel privileges for Ukrainians, who will now have to pay regular fares for public transport in the capital and on suburban routes. Such benefits were introduced to support Ukrainians in the first months of the war, but now the Czech Republic is gradually phasing them out.
Not all benefits for Ukrainians will be canceled immediately. The Czech government emphasizes that there are still benefits for vulnerable categories. In particular, children under 15 accompanied by adults will travel free of charge and receive a 50% discount on travel in the region. And children aged 15 to 18 and students aged 18 to 26 can enjoy reduced fares in Prague and a 50% discount in the region. Pensioners and people with disabilities also have reduced fares in Prague.
It is obvious that the reduction of social benefits for our fellow citizens abroad is an inevitable and natural process. Economic factors, the activities of covert Russian propaganda aimed at discrediting Ukrainians in the EU, and socio-psychological trends of “fatigue from long-term charity” are taking their toll. More and more Ukrainians will return to their homeland, realizing that it will never be better to be away than at home. And that we should all build Europe in Ukraine.
Author: Valeriy Maydanyuk