UNHCR, NGOs seek stronger partnerships for lasting solutions for forcibly displaced, stateless in Asia Pacific
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, together with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society actors in the Asia and the Pacific region, on Friday recommitted to enhanced collaboration to work towards sustainable solutions for the forcibly displaced and stateless. In collaboration with the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) and the Asia Pacific Network of Refugees (APNOR), UNHCR’s Regional NGO Consultations for 2023 were held in Bangkok, Thailand on 14 and 15 September. The in-person and virtual event brought together over 180 participants, representing 161 organizations from 19 countries in the Asia and the Pacific to discuss topics around the central theme of “Promoting Inclusion for Sustainable Solutions.” 2 Rohingyas shot dead during gunfight at Ukhiya camp Currently, there are over 7 million refugees or asylum-seekers and 5 million conflict-affected internally displaced people (IDPs) in the region, as recorded at the end of 2022. Most of those displaced live in increasingly protracted situations in countries where they have found refuge. “Inclusion is a complex subject, often misinterpreted, but when dissected covers many of the key issues we collectively work on to find local solutions for refugees: education, livelihoods, skills and healthcare,” said Indrika Ratwatte, UNHCR Director for Asia and the Pacific. The consultations provided an opportunity for humanitarian partners in Asia and the Pacific to discuss best practices and approaches on how including displaced populations and stateless people in all aspects of life contributes to resilience and long-lasting solutions for the benefit of the whole society. UK to push for long-term solution to Rohingya crisis “Meaningful inclusion requires a shift in thinking that those forcibly displaced are not beneficiaries of support but are assets. They make important contributions to the communities that they are a part of and by extension require supportive policies and protections to really enable their inclusion,” said Keya Saha Chaudhury, ICVA Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. Among the specific topics discussed were how UNHCR, NGOs, and community-based organizations can cooperate with and support member States to promote inclusion in national systems. “Empowering refugee-led organizations is essential. These organizations possess an intimate understanding of the communities they represent and can serve as valuable intermediaries, bridging communication gaps, and facilitating community-driven solutions. Secondly, promoting gender balance is imperative. Member states should actively work to ensure equitable representation of women in decision-making processes at all levels, both within refugee communities and in engagements with government bodies,” said Najeeba Wazefadost, APNOR Executive Director. UN Assistant Secretary-General Kanni Wignaraja visits Ukhia Rohingya camp Throughout the Consultations, participants also acknowledged the important role that refugee-led organizations and civil society play in the refugee response; how to further encourage countries in the region to engage in resettlement and complementary pathways; social-economic inclusion as well as the need for predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing. “We need to think of innovative ways to incorporate the skills that refugees bring to the host communities. We need to ensure that refugees have a platform to utilize those skills and be able to contribute to society so that they can go from vulnerable groups to capable communities,” said Hafsar Tameesuddin, APRRN Co-Secretary General of Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network. Recommendations from the discussions will be presented at UNHCR Executive Committee in October 2023 and inform and support the global NGO consultations in Geneva in June 2024. The first UNHCR-NGO Regional Consultations were held in July 2021, and focused on the social-economic inclusion of refugees in the context of Covid-19.
In an Easter message highlighting hope, Pope Francis on Sunday invoked prayers for both the Ukrainian and Russian people, praised nations which welcome refugees and called on Israelis and Palestinians wracked by the latest surge in deadly violence to forge a “climate of trust.” Francis, along with dozens of prelates and tens of thousands of faithful, celebrated Easter Mass in a flower-adorned St. Peter’s Square, affirming the Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead days after his crucifixion. The 86-year-old pontiff topped the celebration with a traditional speech about troubled places in the world. Encouraging “trust among individuals, peoples and nations," Francis said Easter's joy “illumines the darkness and gloom in which, all too often, our world finds itself enveloped.” The pope's Easter message is known by its Latin name, ”Urbi et Orbi," which means “to the city and the world.” Since Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine in February 2022, Francis has repeatedly called for the fighting to end and sought prayers for the “martyred” Ukrainian people. Ukrainian diplomats have complained that he hasn't come down hard enough in his statements on Russia and particularly Russian President Vladimir Putin as the Vatican tries to avoid alienating Moscow. “Help the beloved Ukrainian people on their journey towards peace, and shed the light of Easter upon the people of Russia,'' Francis implored God in his Easter speech, which he delivered while sitting in a chair on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica facing the square. ”Comfort the wounded and all those who have lost loved ones because of the war, and grant that prisoners may return safe and sound to their families." He urged the international community to work to end the war in Ukraine and “all conflict and bloodshed in the world, beginning with Syria, which still awaits peace.” Francis also prayed for those who lost loved ones in an earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey two months ago, claiming tens of thousands of lives. With a renewal in deadly violence affecting both Israelis and Palestinians in recent days, Francis called for a "resumption of dialogue, in a climate of trust and reciprocal respect, between Israelis and Palestinians, so that peace may reign in the Holy City and in the entire region,'' a reference to Jerusalem. But Francis also noted progress on some fronts. “Let us rejoice at the concrete signs of hope that reach us from so many countries, beginning with those that offers assistance and welcome to all fleeing war and poverty," he said, without naming any particular nations. How to care for asylum-seekers, migrants and refugees, and whether to allow them entrance, is a raging political and social debate in much of Europe, as well in the United States and elsewhere. Francis also prayed that national leaders “ensure that no man or woman may encounter discrimination” and that there would be “full respect for human rights and democracy.” With migrants risking their lives in smugglers’ unseaworthy boats in hopes of reaching Europe, the pope lamented that Tunisia's people, particularly the young, struggle with social and economic hardship. In the last two weeks, dozens have died or were left missing after attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Tunisia. The pope included Lebanon and two African countries he visited this year - South Sudan and Congo - among the nations in need of ending divisions and building reconciliation. Speaking about Haiti, he appealed to “political actors and the international community to seek a definitive solution to the many problems that afflict that sorely tried people.” The bloody conflicts cited by Francis contrasted with a riot of bright colors lent by orange-red tulips, yellow sprays of forsythia and daffodils, hyacinths and other colorful seasonal flowers that decorated St. Peter's Square. The blooms were trucked in trucks from the Netherlands. By the end of the pope's appearance, some 100,00 people had flocked to the square in time for the pontiff's speech, according to the Vatican's crowd count. A canopy on the edge of steps on the square sheltered the pontiff, who was back in the public eye for the Mass 12 hours after a 2.25-hour long Easter vigil ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica the night before. Francis was hospitalized March 29-April 1 for treatment of bronchitis. Still recovering, he skipped the traditional Good Friday procession at Rome’s Colosseum due to unseasonably cold nighttime temperatures. Near the end of the more than two-hour-long Easter Sunday appearance, Francis seemed to run out of steam. His voice grew hoarse and he interrupted his speech at one point to cough. He nonetheless made several laps through the square in the popemobile after the Mass, waving and smiling at cheering well-wishers.
With an aim to support countries and territories to build professional competence and capacity to adequately address refugee and migrant health issues, the World Health Organization (WHO) is organising the third edition of its annual Global School on Refugee and Migrant Health in Dhaka with a focus on capacity-building. Over five days, from November 28 to December 2, policymakers, UN partner agencies, academia, members of civil society, and stakeholders at the Global School will exchange knowledge and experiences to address key elements of capacity-building. The e-learning hybrid event hosted by the Ministry of Health, Bangladesh will be streamed globally. Read more: COP27: How will UN climate deal on loss and damage work? Globally, one in eight or over one billion people today are migrants with 281 million international migrants and many million individuals who are stateless, WHO said. Climate change, rising inequality, conflicts, trade, and population growth are accelerating these trends. The health workforce has a vital role in providing for the health rights and needs of refugees and migrants. Read more: Climate Change: UN, Bangladesh to strengthen cooperation “Migration and displacement can have deep and long-lasting impacts on physical and mental health and well-being, and cultural and linguistic differences, financial barriers, stigma and discrimination can all hamper access to health services for refugees and migrants,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General on Monday. “Health workers have a crucial role in helping to overcome these barriers. The WHO Global School on Refugee and Migrant Health is a valuable resource for building the capacity of health workers to better serve refugees and migrants.” While not all refugees and migrants are vulnerable, often they are, due to an array of determinants, from xenophobia and discrimination to poor living, housing, and working conditions, and inadequate access to health services that are people-centered and which are sensitive to refugee and migrant health needs. Read More: Time running out for climate negotiators over loss and damage “Human right to health is a right that extends to all people everywhere, especially refugees and migrants. Because to be truly respected, protected and fulfilled, a right must be fully enjoyed by the most marginalized and vulnerable – those at risk of or who are already being left behind, which often includes people on the move,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia addressing the participants. Held in a different location each year, the Global School aims to leverage the learnings and experiences of countries in close collaboration with WHO and governments. This year, over 7.1 million Bangladeshis were displaced by climate change, a number that could reach 13.3 million by 2050, according to WHO. Read More: UN climate talks drag into extra time with scant progress Since 1978, the country has also witnessed three major influxes of forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals totalling more than one million people each with unique medical needs and housed in one of the world’s largest and most densely populated camps in Cox’s Bazar. “Not only has Bangladesh provided them access to free health care – including, most recently, COVID-19 vaccines – but it has also made concerted efforts to address key social, economic, environmental, and legal vulnerabilities,” said the Regional Director. “The yearly Global School on Refugee and Migrant Health is a flagship of the WHO Health and Migration Programme and an opportunity to strengthen the strategic and operational collaboration with Regional and country offices on refugee and migrant health towards the implementation of the Global Action Plan on promoting the health of refugees and migrants 2019-2023 (GAP),” said Dr Santino Severoni, Director of the Health and Migration Programme. Read More: UNICEF wants investment in world's first child-focused climate risk financing solution Open to all audiences, the Global School aims to reach a diverse audience of policy makers, health sector managers, and officers working at different levels within Ministries of Health. Researchers, University students, nongovernmental agencies, youth representatives and journalists also participate. “From each context to the next, no challenge is the same, nor will there be the solution. But of critical need to all countries and health systems is a health workforce that is well-trained, culturally sensitive and competent, and which is sensitive to the needs of refugees and migrants, their languages and unique health problems,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh. Read More: EU shakes up climate talks with surprise disaster fund offer
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has said no refugees would be allowed to enter Bangladesh this time in light of the internal conflict in Myanmar. “However, we have information this time they won’t be coming toward Bangladesh,” he told journalists after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's video conference with tea workers on Saturday. Momen said different armed groups and the ruling junta have been locked in clashes in Myanmar recently. Also read: Security tightened along border after firing from Myanmar side: Police During such incidents, he said, Myanmar nationals run towards Bangladesh fearing atrocities. "Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) has already been instructed to remain vigilant so that no one can enter Bangladesh,” Momen said. On Saturday morning, two helicopters and two aircraft reportedly appeared between pillar No 40 and 41 under Reju Amtali BGB BOP in Ghumdhum union of the Naikhonchhari upazila in Cox’s Bazar. Locals reported firing from the aircrafts and dropping of two mortar shells near the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. Law enforcement agencies have further strengthened security measures along Bangladesh-Myanmar border at Naikhongchhari point after the reported firing. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will summon Myanmar Ambassador to Bangladesh Aung Kyaw Moe again on Sunday to lodge a strong protest regarding the matter, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam told UNB. The Myanmar side was warned twice in August following mortar shells landing in Bangladesh territory from Myanmar and strong protests were lodged in this regard. Also read: “BGB vigilant, none can enter from Myanmar now” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs last Monday summoned Myanmar Ambassador to Bangladesh Aung Kyaw Moe and lodged a strong protest against Myanmar’s mortar shells landing inside Bangladesh territory a day earlier.
Worldwide food insecurity, climate crisis, the war in Ukraine and other emergencies from Africa to Afghanistan, forced around 100 million people to flee their homes, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said Thursday. Today, one in every 78 people on earth is displaced; it is a "dramatic milestone" that few would have expected a decade ago, the agency added. By the end of 2021, the number displaced by war, violence, persecution and human rights abuses stood at 89.3 million, according to the UNHCR's annual Global Trends report. That was up eight percent from 2020 and "well over double the figure of 10 years ago," the report's authors said, attributing last year's increase to numerous escalating conflicts "and new ones that flared." "Every year of the last decade, the numbers climbed," said UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi. "Either the international community comes together to take action to address this human tragedy, resolve conflicts and find lasting solutions, or this terrible trend will continue." The 100 million displaced figure was reached in May, 10 weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine prompted a global cereal and fertiliser shortage from these major exporters. In all, 23 countries with a combined population of 850 million faced "medium or high-intensity conflicts," the UN agency said, citing World Bank data. Among the 89.3 million globally displaced last year, 27.1 million were refugees – 21.3 million under the UNHCR's mandate, and 5.8 million Palestinians under the care of the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA. Another 53.2 million were internally displaced people, 4.6 million asylum seekers, and 4.4 million Venezuelans left with little option but to flee their country's economic and political crisis. Data from the UNHCR report underscored the crucial role played by the world's developing nations in sheltering displaced people, with low and middle-income nations hosting more than four in five of the world's refugees. With 3.8 million refugees within its borders, Türkiye hosts the largest number of refugees, followed by Colombia, with 1.8 million (including Venezuelan nationals), Uganda and Pakistan (1.5 million each) and Germany (1.3 million). Also read: Nearly 37 million children displaced worldwide: UNICEF
On a dusty field on the east side of Mexico’s sprawling capital, some 500 Ukrainian refugees are waiting in large tents under a searing sun for the United States government to tell them they can come. The camp has only been open a week and 50 to 100 people are arriving every day. Some have already been to the U.S. border in Tijuana where they were told they would no longer be admitted. Others arrived at airports in Mexico City or Cancun, anywhere they could find a ticket from Europe. “We are asking the U.S. government to process faster,” said Anastasiya Polo, co-founder of United with Ukraine, a nongovernmental organization, that collaborated with the Mexican government to establish the camp. She said that after a week’s time none of the refugees there “are even close to the end of the program.” The program, Uniting for Ukraine, was announced by the U.S. government April 21. Four days later, Ukrainians showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border were no longer exempted from a pandemic-related rule that has been used to quickly expel migrants without an opportunity to seek asylum for the past two years. Instead, they would have to apply from Europe or other countries such as Mexico. To qualify people must have been in Ukraine as of Feb. 11; have a sponsor, which could be family or an organization; meet vaccination and other public health requirements; and pass background checks. Also Read: Civilians rescued from Mariupol steel plant head for safety Polo said U.S. government officials had told her it should take a week to process people, but it appeared like it was just beginning. Some of the first arrivals had received emails from the U.S. government acknowledging they received their documents and the documents of their sponsors, but she had heard of no sponsors being approved yet. “These people cannot stay in this camp, because it is temporary,” Polo said. More than 100 of the camp’s residents are children. Nearly 5.5 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded its smaller neighbor on Feb. 24, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Giorgi Mikaberidze, 19, is among the waiting. He arrived in Tijuana April 25 and found the U.S. border closed. He complained that the U.S. government had given so little notice, because many people like himself were already in transit. He went from being just yards from the United States to some 600 miles (966 kilometers) now. When the U.S. government announced in late March that it would accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, hundreds entered Mexico daily as tourists in Mexico City or Cancun and flew to Tijuana to wait for a few days – eventually only a few hours – to be admitted to the U.S. at a San Diego border crossing on humanitarian parole. Appointments at U.S. consulates in Europe were scarce, and refugee resettlement takes time, making Mexico the best option. Traveling through Mexico was circuitous, but a loose-knit group of volunteers, largely from Slavic churches in the western United States, greeted refugees at the Tijuana airport and shuttled them to a recreation center that the city of Tijuana made available for several thousand to wait. A wait of two to four days was eventually shortened to a few hours as U.S. border inspectors whisked Ukrainians in. That special treatment ended the day Mikaberidze arrived in Tijuana. “We want to go to America because (we’re) already here, some don’t have even money to go back,” he said. Mikaberidze was visiting relatives in Georgia, south of Ukraine, when the Russian invasion occurred and was not able to return. His mother remains in their village near Kharkhov in eastern Ukraine, afraid to leave her home because Russian troops indiscriminately shoot up cars traveling in the area, he said. “She said it’s a very dangerous situation,” said Mikaberidze, who traveled to Mexico alone. Also Read: Evacuation of civilians from Ukrainian steel plant begins The Mexico City camp provides a safe place to wait. It was erected inside a large sports complex, so Ukrainians could be seen pushing strollers with children along sidewalks, playing soccer and volleyball, even swimming. However, the refugees have been warned that while they are free to leave the complex, no one is responsible for their safety. Iztapalapa, the capital’s most populated borough, is also one of its most dangerous. The Mexican government was providing security at the camp with about 50 officers, Polo said. The Navy had also set up a mobile kitchen to provide meals. She said they felt safe inside the camp, but were asking the government about the possibility of moving the camp to a safer area. Mykhailo Pasternak and his girlfriend Maziana Hzyhozyshyn, waited at the entrance to the complex Monday afternoon. Both suffering from an apparent head cold, they planned to move to a hotel for a day or two to try to get some sleep and recover before returning to the camp. Pasternak had left the U.S. to help Hzyhozyshyn get in. The two had spent several days in Tijuana before flying to Mexico City and arriving at the camp Sunday. The couple stood out on the streets of Iztapalapa and appeared to be withering under the relentless sun. The couple had known each other for six years. “She’s my love,” Pasternak said.
As the United States prepares to accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees following Russia's invasion of their country, existing communities in cities like Sacramento and Seattle are already mobilizing to provide food, shelter and support to those fleeing the war. The federal government hasn't said when the formal resettlement process will begin, but Ukrainian groups in the U.S. are already providing support to people entering the country through other channels, including on visas that will eventually expire or by flying to Mexico and crossing over the border. “No refugee is waiting for you to be ready for them," said Eduard Kislyanka, senior pastor at the House of Bread church near Sacramento, which has been sending teams of people to Poland and preparing dozens of its member families to house people arriving in California. Read:Russia war ends era of globalization that kept inflation low Since the war began in late February, over 4 million people are estimated to have fled Ukraine and millions more have been displaced within the country. President Joe Biden said last week that the U.S. would admit up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and provide $1 billion in humanitarian assistance to countries affected by the exodus. The federal government has yet to provide a timeline for refugee resettlement — often a lengthy process — or details on where refugees will be resettled. It’s unlikely the United States will see a massive influx of Ukrainians on charter and military flights like happened with Afghan refugees last year. Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said the White House commitment of accepting up to 100,000 Ukrainians does not come with a minimum. Aside from the refugee resettlement program, their main avenues will be seeking humanitarian parole and appearing at the border with Mexico, she said. Many who reach the United States will likely go to cities that already have strong Ukrainian communities. The Sacramento region is home to the highest concentration of Ukrainian immigrants in the country, with about 18,000 people, according to census data analyzed by the Migration Policy Institute. The Seattle, Chicago and New York City areas are also hubs. Word is spreading about the resources available in Sacramento, where churches like House of Bread are connecting Ukrainians who have already arrived with host families who can offer shelter and help access government resources and transportation. Kislyanka called the church's actions a “stop gap" measure designed to help as people await more clarity about the formal government resettlement process. “Most of these people do not have any relations, like they don't know anybody here," said Kislyanka, who came to the U.S. as a child in the early 1990s. “Having somebody who can help them navigate the cultural shock and navigate the system. . . it just makes things a lot easier and smoother." Sacramento has been a destination for Ukrainians since the late 1980s and early 1990s, when many of those arriving were Christians taking advantage of a U.S. law offering entrance to anyone escaping religious persecution in the former Soviet Union. Another wave of refugees began arriving after Russia's initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Of the 8,000 Ukrainians resettled by the organization World Relief since then, 3,000 have come to Sacramento, said Vanassa Hamra, the group's community engagement manager in Sacramento. Beyond the dozens of Slavic churches in the Sacramento region, there are schools that serve mainly Ukrainian and Russian students. Eastern European grocery stores and restaurants offer favorite foods like borscht, a type of beetroot soup, and varenyky, a boiled dumpling. Businesses started by Ukrainians try to hire others from their country. All of that makes it easy for younger people to maintain a sense of connection to their heritage and for older immigrants to adapt without having to become fluent in a new language and culture. “It's very easy when you come here. Every door, it's open for you," said Oleksandra Datsenko, who came to the U.S. six years ago and works as a waitress at Firebird Russian Restaurant, which serves Eastern European fare in a Sacramento suburb. Valeriy Goloborodko, who immigrated to Southern California in 2006, wanted to return to Ukraine until he settled with his wife in the Seattle area. There, he found a thriving Ukrainian community and went on to become the country's honorary consul in Seattle in 2015, helping organize an annual festival where as many as 16,000 people a day would show up to feast on traditional food, listen to Ukrainian musicians and wear traditionally embroidered clothing. Read:Putin misled by advisers on Ukraine, US intel determines “The Ukrainian community in Washington helped me to feel like I was at home — and this is my home now,” Goloborodko said. “We feel like this is a Little Ukraine.” Since the invasion, Goloborodko and others in the Washington state Ukrainian community have lobbied hard for support from state officials. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has vowed that Washington will welcome Ukrainians fleeing the violence. The Legislature has set aside nearly $20 million to help pay anticipated costs of housing, job training, health care and legal aid for Ukrainian refugees. The Port of Seattle has promised to help welcome the refugees at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where they can begin to be connected with services. In Sacramento, meanwhile, the state's housing crisis could prove challenging as resettlement and community organizations look for lodging for new arrivals. Like much of California, the region is facing a housing crunch with limited supply and rising rents. “People are coming here; we can help them; we can provide something. But it’s going to get swamped so quick,” said Kislyanka, the head pastor at House of Bread. The International Rescue Committee's Sacramento branch has an affiliated immigrant welcome center that's already assisting people who entered the country illegally, said Lisa Welze, director of IRC Sacramento. Many are nervous to engage with resettlement agencies but in need of resources — particularly housing — as well as help navigating the immigration system to see if they can find a legal path to stay. As for when the more formal resettlement process will begin, “we've been told we just need to wait," Welze said.
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 ill 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. But in the previous 24 hours, only 45,000 people crossed Ukraine’s borders to seek safety, the slowest one-day count yet, and for four of the last five days the numbers have not surpassed 50,000 a day. In contrast, on March 6 and March 7, over 200,000 people a day left Ukraine. “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. “We hope that hopefully the trend of new arrivals will decrease. But I don’t think there’s any guarantee of that until there’s a political solution” to the war, said Alex Mundt, UNHCR’s senior emergency coordinator in Poland. READ: Ukraine refugees’ hopes of return wane after a month of war The International Organization for Migration has also estimated that more 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 people are believed to be trapped in places where fighting has been intense, or don’t want to leave. “Sadly, there are a lot of people who are not able to leave, either because transportation routes have been cut off or they just don’t have the means arrive to safety in the neighboring countries,” IOM spokesman Jorge Galindo told The Associated Press in Medyka, a Polish border town. 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 was relocated to a nursing home in Germany last week. Michalska, the Polish border guard spokeswoman, suggested that many Ukrainians who have already fled have left the areas most affected by the fighting, and future battles could determine whether civilians in other areas decide to leave. “We cannot exclude that there will be more waves of refugees in the future,” Michalska said by phone. Aid agencies are not letting up in their efforts, helping those who have already gotten out of Ukraine and preparing in case new surges of refugees arrive. At the border post in Medyka, Poland, shopping trolleys filled with luggage still rattle down a small path leading from passport control, through a village of aid tents to buses waiting to carry Ukrainian refugees to a nearby town. “Maybe people are waiting it out, to see if their city will get attacked or not,” said Alina Beskrovna, 31, who fled the devastated, besieged southeastern city of Mariupol. She and her mother left the city five days ago but even to get to the border they had to cross 18 checkpoints: 16 Russian and two Ukrainian. She alluded to new Russian airstrikes over the weekend near Ukraine’s western city of Lviv, which has been a key refuge for Ukrainians fleeing after the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladmir Putin. “Putin is very unpredictable. And judging from what happened in Lviv two days ago, I think it will not stop in my region, it will not stop at Ukraine,” she said. “It will go further, so the world should prepare for more waves to come.” Oksana Mironova, a 35-year-old refugee from Kyiv, said: “It is not getting any better — definitely not. We would like to believe it will improve, but unfortunately we need to escape.” Yet even in the face of Russian airstrikes that obliterate apartment buildings, shopping malls and schools, the pull of home remains strong. Olena Vorontsova, 50, fled the capital of Kyiv. “Many people just do not want to leave their homes, because homeland is homeland,” she said
On the global day to celebrate women, many fleeing Ukraine on Tuesday felt only the stress of finding a new life for their children as husbands, brothers and fathers stayed behind to defend their country from Russia's invasion. The number of refugees reached 2 million on Tuesday, according to the United Nations, the fastest exodus Europe has seen since World War II. One million were children, UNICEF spokesman James Elder tweeted, calling it “a dark historical first.” Most others were women. Polina Shulga tried to ease the journey for her 3-year-old daughter by hiding the truth. “Of course it’s hard to travel with a child, but I explained to her that we’re going on vacation and that we’ll definitely come home one day when the war is over,” Shulga said. She didn’t know what would come next after arriving in Hungary from Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, but believed the experience would make her stronger. “I feel like I’m responsible for my child, so it was easier for me to take this step and leave,” she said, as her little girl tugged at the hem of her coat. Nataliya Grigoriyovna Levchinka, from Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, felt much the same. READ: Civilians flee Ukrainian city as 1 safe corridor opens “I’m generally in some kind of a terrible dream which keeps going on,” the retired teacher said. “I would be in some kind of abstraction if it wasn’t for my daughter. I wouldn’t be able to come to my senses.” A decree by Ukraine’s government that prohibits men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country means that most of those fleeing are women and children, though the U.N. doesn't have exact numbers on gender. Ukraine's policy is meant to encourage men to sign up to fight against Russia’s invasion or to keep them available for military conscription. That has led to heartbreaking scenes of separation, along with growing worry as some encircled, battered parts of Ukraine slip out of reach. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke of International Women's Day, which is normally a day for celebration in Ukraine, in a video address. “Ukrainians, we usually celebrate this holiday, the holiday of spring. We congratulate our women, our daughters, wives, mothers," he said. "Usually. But not today. Today I cannot say the traditional words. I just can’t congratulate you. I can’t, when there are so many deaths. When there is so much grief, when there is so much suffering. When the war continues." Women normally receive flowers and chocolates and kisses and speeches. But this time, the messages were tinged with sorrow and pleas for peace. In a refugee camp in Moldova, Elena Shapoval apologized for her tears. She doesn’t hide them from her two children, 4 and 8, while recalling their journey from Odesa. The younger one doesn’t understand what’s happening, Shapoval said. The older one tries to calm her, saying, "‘Mom, everything will be all right.’” She cannot allow herself to collapse in grief as she thinks about the life they left behind. “I realize that we’ll have to work a lot now,” she said. “I need to get myself together because I have two children and I need to ball up my will like a fist.” In Romania, Alina Rudakova began to cry as she realized she had forgotten about the holiday. Last year, the 19-year-old from Melitopol received a bouquet of flowers from her father and gifts from other relatives. “This year, I didn’t even think about this day,” she said. “This day was really awful.” But some arriving refugees were given bouquets of spring flowers by the immigration officials and volunteers who greeted them after crossing the borders in Poland and Romania. “I was so stressed, I was so tired, it kind of made my day,” said 15-year-old Mariia Kotelnytska from Poltava. “The best present for every woman will be to stop the war,” added 19-year-old Anastasia Kvirikashvili from Vinnytsia. As the refugees continued to arrive, new fragilities emerged. “The people who are coming now have less means than the people who came initially, and they’ve also experienced more likely conflict directly, so they’re probably more traumatized,” said a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, Matthew Saltmarsh. READ: Zelenskyy: Ukrainian forces holding key cities In a theater at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in the Polish city of Przemysl near the border, women and children filled makeshift beds. Some checked their phones yet again for news. “It was difficult to prepare myself for traveling,” said one refugee from near Kyiv who gave only her first name, Natalia. “My sister said that I am very brave, but in my opinion I am a coward. I want to go home.” At the Medyka border crossing in Poland, Yelena Makarova said her hurried flight from Kremenchuk with her mother and teenage daughter marked the end of her life as she knew it. Her father, husband and brother all stayed behind. “I wish that (the war) would finish as soon as possible, because do you know, for every mother, what can be worse?” she said. “I can’t understand why our children are dying. I don’t know.
The violin was so beloved by Myroslava Sherbina it was the one item she took as she fled Ukraine, along with the clothes she wore. But the instrument has remained silent since the start of Russia's invasion of her country. “I didn’t want to play so I could hear the sirens and we could go to the bomb shelter,” the 20-year-old Sherbina said. She is among the more than 1.7 million people who have fled Ukraine in what the United Nations calls Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II. The number is up from 1.5 million on Sunday, the U.N. refugee agency said. Sherbina spoke to The Associated Press at a train station in Hungary, one of dozens of musicians with the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine who are now refugees. But that wasn't the end of their journey. They were on their way to Slovenia as part of a joint evacuation mission with a Slovenian orchestra. READ: Russia snubs UN court hearings in case brought by Ukraine Cellos, violins, violas and other instruments lay on the train platform next to their young and disoriented owners. Hours-long train delays caused by the surge of Ukrainians toward borders meant that about 30 of the musicians were still unaccounted for. “There’s a group of about 90 people coming to this particular train station,” said Uros Dokl, a volunteer from Slovenia who came the 665 kilometers (413 miles) to greet the orchestra members. “Not all of them are members of the orchestra, but they are young people playing music, and young people of course need guidance." Sherbina, the violin player, said she’s confident the war in Ukraine will end soon and she’ll be able to return to home. Until then, she’ll refine her skills in Slovenia, a country she’s never visited. “I want to feel safe so I can practice, and not think that a bomb can fall and ruin my house,” she said. Some 4 million people may flee Ukraine if Russia's offensive continues, the U.N. has said. On Monday, the European Union's foreign affairs policy chief Josep Borrell urged the mobilization of “all the resources” of the 27-nation bloc to help countries welcoming them. In a sign of the Vatican's concerns, a cardinal dispatched by Pope Francis on a mission to promote peace traveled to the Polish-Ukrainian border on Monday to meet with refugees. He will highlight “the sad similarity between the Ukrainians’ sufferings and the protracted conflicts that no longer attract the world’s attention,” the Vatican said, citing the pope’s frequent denunciation of suffering in wars in Ethiopia, Yemen and Syria. Two Czech army convoys were on the way to neighboring Slovakia to help. “We didn’t have to think twice and immediately met the Slovak request,” Czech Defense Minister Jana Cernochova said. The temporary base will be able to accommodate up to 400 people. Uncertainty and relief continued along the border as thousands of arriving Ukrainians were met by strangers offering care. Many were wrapped in blankets. Some held small children. They sought the basic necessities: food, shelter, sleep, support. READ: Oil prices jump, shares sink as Ukraine conflict deepens Under a canopy next to the train station in the Hungarian border town of Zahony, Tamas Marghescu stirred a large cauldron of traditional meat stew in preparation for hundreds of hungry refugees. As an outdoorsman and the Hungary director for the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation, he called the meal well-suited to the needs of those who shivered in line for hours at the border. “When you’re at home watching the news, you feel so helpless,” his wife, Ilona, said. “And not that this is such a big act, but it’s … important for people when they come off those trains to have somebody smiling at them and to know that there are people here that care.” The couple said they felt a responsibility to help those who fled. Ilona’s parents left Hungary for Australia during World War II, while Marghescu’s family twice fled Soviet domination, after the war in 1948 and again after the brutal Soviet repression of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. “My parents are still telling me stories about when they were refugees and they were looked after,” said Marghescu, His wildlife organization has set up similar outdoor kitchens at the Polish, Slovakian and Romanian borders with Ukraine. “It’s a traditional meal and it’s cooked with love,” his wife said. In Moldova, some families were opening homes to refugees. “It was a natural and beautiful process,” said Sabina Nadejdin, who hosts pregnant Anastacsia Luybimova and her three small children. Like most others, Luybimova's husband stayed behind in Ukraine. Lifting her hand from her belly, she showed a heart tattoo that she and her husband got on their ring fingers when they married. In Poland, where more than 1 million refugees have arrived, 17-year-old Polish volunteer Zuzana Koseva described them as “just very, very tired, terrified and confused because they don’t know what to expect.” The volunteers were trying to organize food and a warm tent for them, she said. She was moved by the exhausted mothers and the small, sometimes bewildered, children. “They are happy with one sweet, so that’s just amazing,” Koseva said. One mother held a child to her chest and, closing her eyes in what might be prayer, touched their foreheads together.