“Loss of status and benefits”. Why Ukrainian refugees who decide to go home are not allowed back to the EU
Ukrainian refugees become ‘non-refugees’.
People who have already applied for documents under paragraph 24 and have been granted temporary asylum for a year to a year and a half (depending on the country), but who left for Ukraine for at least a couple of days (and many did) are faced with the fact that they cannot go back.
“Entry back to the European Union is regulated in a standard way – by visa-free travel. That is, if the visa-free period is over, they may not allow you to enter Europe, even if you have asylum documents under paragraph 24. They say it will only be possible to enter after three months, but the refugee status is already lost. People are being turned away in droves at the border. Many of them already have jobs in Europe, some have left their children here and returned to Ukraine for a couple of days. As a result, some of our people make it back, but they have to wander through different checkpoints in the hope that somewhere they will be spared. The final decision whether to let them in or turn them back is up to European border guards. Sometimes they let them in, sometimes they don’t”, told us Tatiana, a resident of Kyiv region who is now in Poland.
And the problems arise not only from going to Ukraine, but also to any other country outside the Schengen area.
Karina Grek, a Kiev doctor, has found refuge in Poland since the beginning of the war. But the other day, due to family circumstances, she had to leave for Lebanon for a short while. Upon her return, the woman was in for an unpleasant surprise.
“I’m telling you how it is for those who left Poland after the 90-day visa-free period has expired. I am now waiting for the officer’s decision, but I was told to be prepared to take the next flight back to Lebanon and be there for 90 days, and only then to return to Poland. So the PESRL (document confirming the right to stay in Poland according to Article 24 – Ed.) means nothing”, says Karina Grek.
While waiting for the visa officer’s decision, she recorded a video and posted it on instagram. In the end everything ended well, she was allowed into Poland together with her small child.
But not everyone is that lucky. Especially those who go to Ukraine and then try to return to the EU.
“Many go home for a couple of days, and they are not allowed back – people lose their jobs, their rented accommodation,” says Tatiana.
According to our refugees, the most difficult thing to “infiltrate” is the Polish and Hungarian borders. Since there is no air communication with Europe to Ukraine now, people cannot enter not only Poland or Hungary, but also other countries, e.g. Germany, Italy, where they were granted asylum.
Although, for example, in Italy there has recently been an official clarification that people who have received a Permesso (a plastic card that confirms registration according to the 24th paragraph) can go to Ukraine for up to 90 days a year and come back without losing their right for temporary asylum. But in reality, it all depends on the mood of the border guard at the Hungarian border to let them in or turn them back.
We looked at how Ukrainian refugees are deprived of status, benefits and jobs in Europe for travelling to their home country.
The visa-free trap
Until recently our refugees had no problems travelling home. Moreover, enterprising businessmen have already made profitable business on passenger transportation from Europe to Ukraine and back – people are carried by vans, and even by private cars for 75-150 euro per person depending on a destination.
But every day the number of Ukrainians who officially go abroad is decreasing. The thing is that not everyone can leave and come back without problems, but only those who have a valid visa-free regime. According to the rules of visa-free travel, our citizens may stay in the EU for 90 days for each 180 days. That is three months in Europe and then three months at home.
Those who left for Europe on the first day of the war, February 24, had their visa-free entry expired on May 24. But these were relatively few of the total number of our refugees. But with each passing day, the number of those whose visa-free period expired is growing. For example, visa-free travel in Europe will expire on June 24 for citizens who entered during the first month of the war – from late February to March 24.
Initially, the EU announced a possible extension of the visa-free regime for Ukrainians (it discussed terms of stay up to 180 days), but in the end only some countries (Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus) extended the visa-free regime. Instead, people began to receive humanitarian protection under paragraph 24. This status allows them to stay in the chosen country, work there, and receive social and medical assistance for one year, renewable for two more years.
But as it turns out, refugee status can easily be lost.
Many Ukrainians, who decided to go home with a period of stay in the EU of more than 90 days, are simply not allowed back into Europe. Or they don’t enter it at the first time (they have to drive through different checkpoints).
“In the end, it all depends on the decision of the particular border guard – whether he is sorry or not. If some people are let in, others are turned away, it is clear that there is no general algorithm in this respect”, – complains Oksana, a resident of Poltava region, who fought her way back to Italy after a week long trip to Ukraine.
“I had a whole quest. They turned me back on the Hungarian border. Knowledgeable people advised to try through Poland, they let me through there, but indicated that they made an exception for me not to violate again, “- told us Oksana.
At the same time, she said, she specifically waited for the Permesso plastic card, which confirms the granting of asylum in Italy under paragraph 24 for a year.
“As long as I had a paper certificate (it was issued during the Permesso application stage), I did not go anywhere. When I got a plastic card from Questura (migration department of Italian police) I asked if I could go to Ukraine. They said it would be no problem. The main thing is not to exceed 90 days of stay in Ukraine during a year. But in practice the Hungarian frontier guards know nothing about it. The Italian Permesso did not impress them at all”, says the woman.
“Ask the officials to leave and return the aid”.
“Can I go to Ukraine and come back?” – is now probably the most common question in our refugee groups on social media and profile telegram chats.
The answers are varied. Some people write that they went to Ukraine and returned without any problems, others, on the contrary, say that under no circumstances should they leave – they may not let you back, and in three months, i.e. when the visa-free visa starts working again, you will no longer have refugee status, the right to social benefits, medical assistance, education for children, etc.
“Can you tell me whether it is possible to go to Ukraine legally and come back? My mother has urgent matters and her presence is needed. What would it take not to lose housing and social (benefits – Ed.),” asks Yulia Kovalenko in the Facebook group “Ukrainians in Leipzig”.
“No”, “To leave, you need to get off the register everywhere”, “You can for a couple of days, if something is urgent. And if it’s longer, report to the Sozialamt (social services in Germany – Ed.) to have money deducted (from the allowance – Ed.) for the days of absence,” they told her.
“Four Sozialamt officials told me that when you leave Germany, you lose your entitlement and you have to re-register if you come back,” added Oksana Tsar, who now works as a translator at the social service in Leipzig. According to her, the Germans are surprised, to put it mildly, by our citizens’ questions about travelling to Ukraine.
Olesya Opilat, who has been living in Germany for a long time, recommends to make an individual request to German authorities, and ask them if it is possible to leave Ukraine and go back and under what conditions.
It is noted that now Ukrainians in Germany are already being transferred to employment centres – they are responsible for overseeing the issues of benefits. And there, when filling out an online form, there is a special column – whether you plan to leave Germany.
“Whoever has urgent business in Ukraine can travel for up to 21 days. It is obligatory to have a registration document. When crossing the border, the entry and exit is stamped in it. It is also obligatory to notify the migration service of your departure. This way, you will retain your refugee status, assistance, and accommodation,” Tetyana Vlasyuk wrote.
However, not everyone is given the ‘yes’ to travel.
“Germans have a simple logic: it is dangerous in Ukraine – people flee from the war, they need help. And at the moment when help is received, many Ukrainians go back to Ukraine (the dangerous country from which they fled recently and asked for protection). What can we conclude – it means it’s not so dangerous there, as they are going back. This means that the attitude is appropriate,” says Oksana Tsar.
In Italy, as our refugees discuss in the “Ukrainians in Italy” telegraph chat, everything is much simpler.
“There is no need to write any applications. I specifically went to the police department with this question, which surprised them a lot. They say if you have a Permesso, you can go to Ukraine and come back, no problems at all”, – writes Maryana.
However, as written above, there is another problem – that border guards in Poland or Hungary may not let us in.
“It is better not to “go for a ride”.
Note that our embassy in Italy gives such explanations – whether it is possible to “ride” from Ukraine to Italy and back:
Citizens who have obtained a Permesso di soggiorno protezione temporanea emergenza Ukraina are allowed to travel to other countries, including outside the Schengen area and the EU.
In accordance with the same rules that apply to other residence permits, in order to retain the right to use the Permesso di soggiorno, it is not recommended to leave Italy for more than three months.
In order to leave Italy you must obtain a Permesso di soggiorno in the form of a plastic card. It is not recommended to travel with a paper stub (ricevuta).
To leave Italy you do not need to obtain a separate permit from Questura or consular office of Ukraine.
In order to avoid problems with return to Schengen zone you should present Permesso di soggiorno and passport of Ukrainian citizen at the state border crossing point.
That is, as you can see, the wording is largely vague. Let us say that it is not recommended to travel outside of Italy with a paper stub (and only with a plastic card). At the same time, the consulate refers to “rules that apply to other types of residence documents”.
The practice shows that these recommendations do not always work: our citizens are not let through at the Hungarian border even with a plastic card for temporary protection in Italy.
By the way, our refugees in Italy say that they complained to our consulate about “impassable” Hungarian border, but they were advised to just “try to enter the EU through Poland”.
“You need to clarify the issue of travelling to Ukraine in the institution where you applied for temporary protection status,” representatives of the NGO “Visit Ukraine Today” advised us.
The explanations for our refugees from the European Commission also do not provide a clear answer to the question of whether it is possible to travel to Ukraine and not lose the right to asylum.
Only the rules of travel in the EU are specified – Ukrainians can travel with a biometric passport and this right is linked to the visa-free regime in force between Ukraine and the EU,” the website of the European Commission noted.
The same – and explanations from the German BAMF (migration service) – indicate that Ukrainians may travel within the EU with a biometric passport within the framework of a visa-free regime or with a residence permit.
As a result, it turns out that decisions on our refugees are made on a case-by-case basis – some are allowed back to Europe, while others are turned away.
“It has always been the rule in Europe that if a person has been granted asylum on the grounds that it is dangerous to stay in their home country, and then suddenly visits their home country, they automatically lose their refugee status. But the application of the 24th paragraph (temporary asylum) to our nationals is relatively new in Europe. Therefore, there are no clear rules. Therefore, it is better to focus on visa-free travel and, if the 90 days are over, not to leave the territory of the European Union. If you want to keep the right for temporary protection”, – advises Rostislav Kravets, head of the bar association “Kravets and partners”.
As a tip for the refugees living in the country, which allows them to return to Ukraine (for example, Italy), it is suggested to fly there from Romania or Moldova. Both countries are not members of Schengen area, and therefore Ukrainians will definitely be allowed there. And from there they can take a direct flight to Italy.