External contribution

Temporary protection for Ukrainians: exemplarity or European schizophrenia?


This article contextualizes the exceptional treatment of current Ukrainian migration through an analysis of the European and domestic instruments that underpin the granting of temporary protection to Ukrainians. For the informed reader, an in-depth legal analysis of the legislative texts and European jurisprudence is proposed in order to highlight the European ambiguity that appears through a two-speed migration management.

1. Introduction: presentation of the temporary protection granted to Ukrainians and the ambiguities it reveals

While the ethical picture seems to be exemplary in terms of respect for fundamental rights for displaced Ukrainians, the symptoms of European schizophrenia are revealed in one simple fact: temporary protection is activated for the first time in favor of Ukrainians almost 20 years after it was enshrined in the EU Council Directive 2001/55/EC. Twenty years of amnesia? The European ambiguity, which is reflected in both the texts and the case law, can be identified in two complementary ways.

First, an analysis of European legal instruments shows that the mass influx of displaced persons that must be established by the Council in order to grant temporary protection only takes into account migration that takes place legally. However, this is in no way representative of the reality of contemporary migratory flows.

Second, the management of Ukrainian migration contrasts significantly with the treatment of Syrians following the European Court of Justice’s ruling of March 7, 2017 in the context of the armed conflict that has been ongoing since July 2011. For these people, the humanitarian visa — a short-stay visa with a maximum validity of 90 days — is refused, as they intend to apply for international protection, announcing a stay in the EU that exceeds the validity of the visa requested. Given the interpretation adopted by the Court in the Syrian visa case, the visa exemption (particularly for short-term visas) currently granted to Ukrainian fugitives raises questions.

In conclusion, the management of Ukrainian migration should not of course be reviewed in the shadow of reinforced migratory treatments and controls that do not guarantee the exiled populations a respect for human dignity, but on the contrary be synonymous with an exemplary approach to contemporary and future migratory flows.

To go further, a legal analysis of the legal instruments underlying the granting of temporary protection and the case law of the EU Court of Justice on Syrian visas is now proposed.

2. Analysis of European and internal instruments: schizophrenic symptoms in watermarks

EU Council Directive 2001/55/EC of July 20, 2001(1), adopted in the context of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, establishes temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons. On March 4, 2022, it was activated for the first time in its history for Ukrainian nationals(2). In order to avoid overloading the asylum authorities in the context of the conflict in Ukraine, the directive was implemented by Council Decision 2022/382(3), which noted the existence of a massive influx of people from Ukraine. According to the Council’s decision in implementation of its directive, the massive influx of displaced persons justifies, by means of a rapid and simplified procedure, the granting of immediate and temporary protection on the territory of the Member States to Ukrainians displaced since 24 February 2022, This protection is valid for a period of one year, from 4 March 2022 to 4 March 2023, automatically renewable for two six-month periods if the circumstances of the Ukrainian conflict persist, and may be extended for a third year by decision of the Council if there are still reasons to maintain the protection.

The guarantees attached to the exceptional procedure ensuring temporary protection and the fundamental rights linked to the status of this protection are set out in the European instrument of 2011, which was transposed into Belgian law in due time. Temporary protection status thus guarantees unlimited access to the labor market on the territory of the Member States, access to appropriate accommodation or the means to obtain housing, the necessary support in terms of social and medical assistance, as well as access to the education system, without jeopardizing access to the asylum procedure, which is however currently suspended

The application in Belgian law of the decision of the European Council is faithful to the spirit of the directive that supports it. As stated in the information note of the Union of Cities and Municipalities of Wallonia in the context of the accompaniment of the Ukrainians of April 13, 2022(4)Human dignity is guaranteed in a transversal way: from administrative simplification to the immediacy of the procedure for granting protection, from easy access to information to free public transportation, from the granting of social assistance to unlimited access to the labor market, from integration aid to employment and food aid. Effective access to schooling and the situation of unaccompanied foreign minors are not forgotten either, nor are the granting of family allowances and birth premiums (in the Walloon region only). Access to accommodation is facilitated through the establishment of precarious occupancy agreements with This is because solidarity with the so-called illegal migration resulting from the lack of legal ways to enter Europe is still criminalized in Belgium(5).

The Ukrainian situation, whose migratory route is legally supported by the benefit of a visa exemption, is qualified as exceptional by the EU, which encourages the sending of transports to the Ukrainian borders. On its website, the Office for Foreigners curiously expresses itself in terms of « benevolence » towards Ukrainians. Beyond our national borders, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has welcomed the support expressed by many Member States in favor of activating the directive(6), solidarity with the Ukrainian people is needed within the Union.

While European instruments tend to guarantee the fundamental rights of Ukrainians, the precautions put in place to limit the occurrence of mass influxes are revealed in the contrasting light of a careful reading of the legislative provisions. If, as provided for in the directive, the granting of temporary protection is justified by the finding of a mass influx of displaced persons, no criteria likely to determine in a sufficiently clear, precise and foreseeable manner the existence of such an influx are established by the European act.

Article 5 of the directive seems to rule out the possibility of an oversight on the part of the European legislator that could justify this legal vacuum, in that it provides that a mass influx of displaced persons shall be established by a Council decision adopted on a proposal from the Commission(7)This should include at least a description of the specific groups of persons to whom temporary protection will apply, the date of implementation of temporary protection, and an estimate of the magnitude of the movement of displaced persons. The Council’s decision must be based on an examination of the situation and the scale of the movements of displaced persons, an assessment of the appropriateness of introducing temporary protection, taking into account the possibilities for emergency aid and action on the spot or the lack thereof and the information provided by the Member States, the Commission, the UNHCR and other relevant international organizations.

In sum, the duty to motivate is limited to general and abstract estimates of the extent of displacement without any precision or threshold requirement for the evaluation of displacement.

The massive Ukrainian influx is thus left entirely to the discretion of the Commission and the Council, which reveals it in three of the twenty-seven recitals of its implementing decision of March 4, 2022, including article 1he purpose heading, the only provision in the decision relating to the finding of mass influx, reads:  » The existence of a massive influx into the Union of displaced persons who had to leave Ukraine because of armed conflict is noted « .

The recitals introducing the enforcement decision inform that as of1 January 2010, the March 2022, more than 650.000 displaced persons have arrived in the EU from Ukraine, and that in view of the experience gained in the aftermath of Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol [the return, by referendum, of Crimea.…..as well as experience from the war in eastern Ukraine, the Union estimates the potential number of people at between 2.5 and 6.5 million, of whom it expects between 1.2 and 3.2 million to seek international protection.

The finding of a massive influx turns out to be based speculatively on estimates and forecasts that exploit the fact that Ukrainians who hold biometric passports have been granted a visa waiver for short stays since the adoption of the EU regulation of November 14, 2018(8). The massive influx in the sense intended by the EU is thus intended to correspond to migration that takes place by legal means, which is in no way representative of the reality of contemporary migratory flows confronted with the lack of legal means to penetrate the Union’s borders and with the reinforcement of the controls that take place there.

Indicatively, the Commission does not fail to recall in its implementing proposal that several EU agencies have been created or had their mandates strengthened in the years since the adoption of the Directive, in view of the requirement for the Commission to cooperate with the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), the European Union Agency for Asylum and the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) to constantly monitor and review the situation.

3. Syrian visa case and visa waiver for Ukrainians: contrast with the avoidance strategy adopted by the CJEU

It is clear that the management of Ukrainian migration is the antithesis of the treatment reserved by the EU for Syrians in the context of the armed conflict underway since July 2011. For the latter, the humanitarian visa (short-stay visa with a maximum validity of 90 days), which allows legal and safe access to the European fortress, is refused because of their intention to apply for international protection, announcing a stay longer than the validity of the visa requested. Specifically, by judgment of March 7, 2017, the Court of Justice of the European Union(9) ruled on an urgent question referred by the Belgian Aliens Litigation Council on the scope of the international obligations of Member States in the context of the submission of an application for a humanitarian visa on the basis of Article 25 of the Community Code on Visas(10)and on their margin of appreciation of the humanitarian reasons supporting the visa application. More precisely, and in plain language, in this judgment the Court had to answer the question of whether the Member State (the Belgian State, in this case) was obliged to issue the humanitarian visas requested by a Syrian family fleeing Aleppo, when a risk of violation of Article 4 (prohibiting torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment) and/or Article 18 (guaranteeing the right to asylum) of the Charter of the European Union, or of another international obligation, is proven.

Following an interpretation that is part of an avoidance strategy(11) based on the intention of the applicants, the Court limited itself to excluding the application of Union law and the guarantees enshrined in its Charter to the case at hand, on the grounds that the application for a humanitarian visa with the intention of lodging an application for international protection on the territory of the EU does not fall within the scope of the Code on Visas and therefore does not implement EU law, since this regulation, like all EU law, governs only the issuance of visas for stays of up to 90 days (the conditions for the issuance by Member States of long-term visas or residence permits for humanitarian reasons are governed solely by national law)(12). The Court thus considered that the intention of the applicants to file an asylum application on Belgian territory announcing the issuance of a residence permit whose validity exceeds that of the humanitarian visa, which is 90 days, did not allow them to qualify their application as a humanitarian visa within the meaning of article 25 of the European Code on Visas and to benefit from the European guarantees linked to the implementation of European Union law. The analysis of the jurisprudential reasoning raises questions about the opportunistic and political nature of the interpretation adopted by the Court of Justice in the Syrian case.

The analysis of Ukrainian migration in reading the Court’s reasoning adopted with respect to a Syrian migration case, raises the following question: in view of the current Ukrainian situation, which does not give reason to believe that Ukrainians are fleeing their country for a short period of time, and at least for a period of less than 90 days, as confirmed by the Council’s implementing decision of March 2022, which grants them renewable temporary protection without prejudice to access to the asylum procedure, how can the benefit of the visa exemption provided for in European regulation 2018/1806 be justified for Ukrainians when this exemption is aimed specifically at visas whose period of validity does not exceed 90 days? Assuming that the intention of Ukrainian nationals on the run is taken into account, the exemption could not be applied to them, which would significantly relativize the legal migratory flow on which European speculations are based to assess the massive influx of movements and the guarantees granted by the implementation of EU law. The Court’s reasoning now seems outdated. The dissonances that result from the analysis of the management of Syrian exile deserve that we also look at other migratory situations such as those resulting from the Iraqi invasion, the Afghan, Palestinian, Venezuelan or Burundian exile, which do not allow us to a priori, we do not believe that a more favorable conclusion can be drawn in terms of migration management, accessibility to European and international protections and guarantees of human and fundamental rights.

4. In conclusion: in order to guarantee the respect of human dignity, the European paradoxes must be removed

Regardless of the fact that the West should stop creating migratory flows through war and economic interest, the comparative analysis of the Syrian situation, revealing the schizophrenic behavior of the EU, should not however lead to revise the treatment of the current Ukrainian migratory influx (which is curiously not qualified in terms of a crisis) downgraded to reflect the finalistic and opportunistic interpretation of the Court in the Syrian visa case. On the contrary, the management of Ukrainian migration, due to the facilities granted both in access to European borders and access to effective protection, should be inspiring. In the same sense, the general and abstract terms of Council Directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001 need to be interpreted and applied in order to take broad account of mass migratory influxes. The current attitude of the EU towards the Ukrainian situation should thus be synonymous with exemplarity for future migratory situations, in the name of human dignity and the fundamental rights that enshrine it, considering that they are not reduced to a series of empty shells, abstractly reduced to the shadow of themselves.

Tamara Nissen

Notes et références
  1. Directive 2001/55/CE du Conseil du 20 juillet 2001 relative à des normes minimales pour l’octroi d’une protection temporaire en cas d’afflux massif de personnes déplacées et à des mesures tendant à assurer un équilibre entre les efforts consentis par les États membres pour accueillir ces personnes et supporter les conséquences de cet accueil, J.O.C.E., L 212 du 7 août 2001.

  2.  La protection temporaire ne vise pas uniquement les ressortissants ukrainiens. Peuvent également en bénéficier les membres de leur famille (conjoint ; partenaire ; enfant mineur) et autres parents proches de la même cellule familiale à charge ainsi que les apatrides et ressortissants de pays tiers autres que l’Ukraine ayant bénéficié d’une protection internationale ou d’une protection nationale équivalente en Ukraine avant le 24 février 2022 et déplacés d’Ukraine le 24 février 2022 ou après cette date, et membres de leur famille, et les apatrides et ressortissants de pays tiers autres que l’Ukraine pouvant établir qu’ils étaient en séjour régulier en Ukraine avant le 24 février 2022 sur la base d’un titre de séjour permanent en cours de validité délivré conformément au droit ukrainien et qui ne sont pas en mesure de rentrer dans leur pays d’origine ou leur région d’origine dans des conditions sûres et durables (art. 2 de la décision d’exécution du Conseil 2022/383 du 4 mars 2022). 

  3. Décision d’exécution 2022/382 du Conseil du 4 mars 2022 constatant l’existence d’un afflux massif de personnes déplacées en provenance d’Ukraine, au sens de l’article 5 de la directive 2001/55/CE, et ayant pour effet d’introduire une protection temporaire, J.O.C.E., L 71/1 du 4 mars 2022.

  4. Union des Villes et Communes de Wallonie – Fédération des CPAS, Note d’informations CPAS réfugiés ukrainiens, mise à jour du 13 avril 2022, disponible sur file:///C:/Users/T.nissen/Documents/CMGV/8581–2022-04–13—note-infos-cpas—refugies-ukrainiens—cth.pdf

  5. Caritas se prononce sur la migration illégale en faisant notamment savoir que : « Une tendance à faire obstacle, diaboliser, stigmatiser et criminaliser l’aide humanitaire aux migrants a fait son apparition à travers toute l’Europe, créant ainsi un effet de dissuasion décourageant tout acte de solidarité. Ce phénomène est décrit au sens large comme une « criminalisation » de la solidarité, puisqu’il s’étend bien au-delà de simples actions judiciaires », Caritas Europa, Prise de position, La « criminalisation » de la solidarité envers les migrants, 20 juin 2019, disponible sur https://www.caritas.eu/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/CE-criminalisation-solidarit%C3%A9-FR-2019.pdf

  6.  Ainsi qu’il ressort de la proposition de la Commission européenne du 2 mars 2022, de décision d’exécution du conseil constatant l’existence d’un afflux massif de personnes déplacées en provenance d’Ukraine, au sens de l’article 5 de la directive 2001/55/CE du Conseil du 20 juillet 2001, et ayant pour effet d’introduire une protection temporaire, COM (2022) 91 final.

  7.  Proposition de la Commission européenne du 2 mars 2022, COM (2022) 91 final.

  8. Règlement (UE) 2018/1806 du Parlement européen et du Conseil du 14 novembre 2018 fixant la liste des pays tiers dont les ressortissants sont soumis à l’obligation de visa pour franchir les frontières extérieures des États membres et la liste de ceux dont les ressortissants sont exemptés de cette obligation, J.O.U.E., L 303/39 du 28 novembre 2018.

  9.  C.J.U.E., 7 mars 2017, aff. C‑638/16 PPU, X. et X., ECLI:EU:C:2017:173.

  10. Règlement (CE) 810/2009 du Parlement européen et du Conseil du 13 juillet 2009 établissant un code communautaire des visas, J.O.U.E., L 243/1, du 15 septembre 2009, dont l’article 1er du Code des visas indique que « le présent règlement fixe les procédures et conditions de délivrance des visas pour les transits ou les séjours prévus sur le territoire des États membres d’une durée maximale de 90 jours », séjour qu’il est convenu d’appeler séjour touristique de courte durée. 

  11. La stratégie d’évitement adoptée par la Cour lui permettant de faire l’économie de l’analyse de la question préjudicielle portant sur l’examen de la marge d’appréciation des Etats membres à l’égard des notions de « raisons humanitaires » et d’« obligations internationales » dans le cadre d’une demande de visa humanitaire introduite par une famille originaire d’Alep est notamment étudiée par C. PEYRONNET et T. RACHO « « Ceci n’est pas un visa humanitaire » : La Cour de justice neutralise l’article 25 § 1 a) du code des visas », La Revue des droits de l’homme [En ligne], Actualités Droits Libertés, mis en ligne le 28 avril 2017, consulté le 02 mai 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/revdh/3047 et S. SAROLEA, J.Y. CARLIER, L. LEBOEUF, « Délivrer un visa humanitaire visant à obtenir une protection internationale au titre de l’asile ne relève pas du droit de l’Union : X. et X., ou quand le silence est signe de faiblesse», Newsletter EDEM, mars 2017.

  12. S. SAROLEA, J.Y. CARLIER et L. LEBOEUF se réunissent en se positionnant dans le sens suivant : « Faut-il considérer que la Cour a fait une interprétation erronée du droit de l’Union au vu des conséquences, politiques et économiques, de sa décision ? Admettons que, quelle que fut la décision de la Cour, elle eût, vraisemblablement, été lue par les uns ou les autres comme « politique ». Il reste que « si les conséquences pratiques de toute décision juridictionnelle doivent être pesées avec soin, on ne saurait aller jusqu’à infléchir l’objectivité du droit et compromettre son application en raison des répercussions qu’une décision de justice peut entraîner » affirmait la Cour dans l’arrêt Bosman de 1995 » in S. SAROLEA, J.Y. CARLIER, L. LEBOEUF, « Délivrer un visa humanitaire visant à obtenir une protection internationale au titre de l’asile ne relève pas du droit de l’Union : X. et X., ou quand le silence est signe de faiblesse», Newsletter EDEM, mars 2017.

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