UN agency says it's too early to start resettling Ukrainian refugees

The Canadian representative for the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, says it's too early to begin to resettle the thousands of Ukrainian refugees who have fled Russian aggression.

UNHCR estimates there could be as many as 4M Ukrainian refugees if current trends continue

Refugees from Ukraine cross into Poland at the Medyka crossing on Tuesday. (Visar Kryeziu/The Associated Press)

The Canadian representative for the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, said it's too early to begin to resettle the thousands of Ukrainian refugees who have fled Russian aggression.

Rema Jamous said the scale of displacement from Ukraine is daunting. Roughly 500,000 people already have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries seeking safety.

If trends continue, the UNHCR estimates there could be as many as four million Ukrainian refugees. Still, Jamous said most people who left Ukraine hope to return home when it is safe to do so.

In the meantime, she said, refugees inside and outside of Ukraine's borders will need humanitarian support because current resources are likely to be depleted quickly.

The UNHCR will discuss resettlement options with countries like Canada at a later stage. Jamous said typically the demand from people looking for new homes far outstrips the opportunities offered by governments.

Jamous's comments come as Canada announces that it will provide an additional $100 million to the UN to help provide humanitarian assistance to Ukrainian refugees inside and outside Ukraine. 

Close to 680,000 refugees from Ukraine have flooded over that country's borders into neighbouring states in the past five days.

At the Hungarian border crossing Tiszabecs, a young mother cradled a baby in her arms as she and her son recounted to Reuters watching rockets stream through the air before they drove for four days from the capital, Kyiv.

"I saw war; I saw rockets," said 15-year-old Ivan, who looked exhausted and pale after the journey.

The family, whose father stayed behind to fight, travelled in two cars carrying Ivan's three sisters, two aunts and grandmother.

A refugee child fleeing from Ukraine gestures when waiting for transport at Nyugati station un Budapest, Hungary, on Monday. (Marton Monus/Reuters)

Poland alone has seen about 400,000 arrivals

Across central Europe, authorities set up makeshift reception centres in tents where people could get medical aid and process asylum papers, while thousands of volunteers have driven to the borders with donations of food, blankets and clothes.

Most of the refugees escaping the war have crossed into the European Union from borders in eastern Poland, Slovakia and Hungary and in northern and northeastern Romania.

The UN has announced it is trying to raise $1.7 billion in donations to help address the unfolding humanitarian crisis on the ground. 

Women and children rest inside the sports hall of a primary school that has been converted to a refugee centre on Tuesday in Przemysl, Poland. According to the United Nations, Poland has so far received at least 281,000 refugees from Ukraine. (Omar Marques/Getty Images)

The UN said that it will use $1.1 billion to provide aid to six million displaced people inside Ukraine for the next three months — food, water, health care and education, among other services. 

The organization said that it will use the remaining $600 million it is trying to raise to help surrounding countries like Poland, Hungary, Romania and others provide emergency relief to those fleeing the violence in Ukraine.

Poland, whose Ukrainian community of around one million is the region's largest, has welcomed a big chunk of the arrivals, with officials estimating around 400,000 people have so far entered from Ukraine.

WATCH | Wait at Poland-Ukraine border stretches into days:

Scenes of desperation at Poland-Ukraine border

7 months ago
Duration 2:27
Cars stretch for more than 18 kilometres at the Poland-Ukraine border as people desperate to get to safety spend days waiting to cross.

Foreign nationals among those forced to flee

Ibrahima Sory Keita  was among those huddling around a bonfire at Medyka crossing, Poland's busiest along its roughly 500-kilometre border with Ukraine. He had arrived in Melitopol three weeks ago from Guinea to begin studies.

Cities under siege across Ukraine are home to tens of thousands of African students studying medicine, engineering and military affairs. Thousands of Indian students are also trying to flee.

The UN migration agency estimated about 470,000 foreign nationals, including students and migrant workers, were stranded in Ukraine and urged neighbouring countries to grant them refuge if needed.

Refugees fleeing war in Ukraine try to get warm at the Medyka pedestrian border crossing in Poland. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images)

Keita and a few friends raced to the border when fighting broke out, walking the final 45 kilometres on foot.

"Everything hurts right now," he told Reuters after crossing the border. "I haven't had a chance to lie down for four days. I am shaking (from cold), and I need to sleep in a warm place."

Some refugees were met by family members already working in the European Union who waited at the many border crossings, while local residents and officials across the region offered apartments and set up reception centres for temporary lodging.

Days of waiting to cross into the European Union also began to take its toll, with some new arrivals describing fuel shortages and lines moving only a kilometre a day.

"People are very tired physically and mentally in these queues," Tatiana Melychuk, 37, who fled from Ivano-Frankivsk with her two children, told Reuters. "If someone breaks the rules people get aggressive."

With files from Reuters and CBC's Peter Zimonjic


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?