People gather next to a train at Kyiv Main Railway Station as they try to flee from Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine, on Monday. Since the war began on Feb. 24, more than a million Ukrainians have fled the country. On Thursday, the European Union agreed to grant them Temporary Protected Status. Photo by Roman Pilipey/EPA-EFE
March 4 (UPI) -- The European Union has granted Ukrainians fleeing war immediate protections similar to that of refugee status, a unprecedented moved by the 27-member bloc as it attempts to deal with a mass influx of displaced people from the non-EU nation.
The national interior ministers unanimously agreed Thursday to active a 2001 directive that grants fleeing Ukraines Temporary Protected Status in any EU country. By triggering the directive, displaced people from Ukraine will be granted a residence permit and access to employment, housing, welfare, healthcare, education and the like.
The temporary protection will be applied for one year and extended automatically by six-month periods for another year. The European Council on Refugees and Exiles added that it will also help manage border arrivals without asylum systems becoming over loaded.
The directive was established following conflicts in former Yugoslavia and elsewhere that showed the EU needed procedures to deal with mass influxes of displaced people from non-EU countries, such as Ukraine.
More than 1 million Ukrainians have fled their country in that last week since Russia began its invasion, with more than 500,000 settling in Poland and another 133,000 in Hungary, according to United Nations data.
Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, remarked that in his near 40-year career he has rarely seen such an exudes as rapid as the one happening in Ukraine and he expects millions more are likely to flee.
"Today's decision by the European Union to offer temporary protection to refugees fleeing Ukraine is unprecedented," Grandi tweeted. "It will provide protection to millions on the move. We encourage its swift and broad application."
The ministers' swift approval to active the directive came a day after the European Commission proposed for it to be accepted and after four days they started working on the proposal.
Ylva Johansson, EU commissioner for Home Affairs, called the decision by the ministers "historic" during a press conference Thursday.
"I think this is a really great day," she said. "I'm proud of being European, I'm proud of the solidarity that individual EU citizens are showing [to Ukrainians], that the local and regional governments, the NGOs, boarder guards."
"We could also see this solidarity today in the council," she said.
Johansson added that there is a great sense of solidarity with those of Ukraine but they are not "naive" to think that millions of fleeing Ukrainians wouldn't cause a problem for their societies.
She added, however, that they are in a much better position now compared to Europe's Syrian refugee crisis of 2015.
"Of course there are going to be challenges," she said. "But we are much, much better prepared and we showed this today with this unanimous decision that member states are really ready, and the willingness to show solidarity with Ukraine, with the refugees and with each other is strong."
The United States on Thursday also announced that it was offering Temporary Protected Status to Ukrainians while Canada said it has introduced new immigration routes for Ukrainians to go to the North American nation either temporarily or permanently.