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Sociologists and other experts discussed how Ukrainian refugees have been received by neighboring European countries in a panel hosted by Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies on Monday.
The panel featured speakers from Germany and Poland in conversation with Viktoriya Sereda — a Ukrainian sociologist and the director of the research group PRISMA UKRAÏNA — to share the Ukrainian perspective. The event, which was moderated by the Executive Director of the Davis Center Alexandra M. Vacroux, began with a short presentation from each of the three speakers before opening up into a discussion.
According to Sereda, the number of Ukrainian refugees seeking asylum in Europe is over 5 million, most of whom are women.
Wolfgang J. Hummel — head of legal affairs at the Ukraine Refugee Reception Center — spoke about the German national response to the refugee crisis, highlighting how Ukrainian refugees have access to special benefits in Germany, such as child care and online classes.
“Ukrainian refugees are treated differently and they are allowed to decide where to settle,” Hummel said. “We have, what we all know, this European Temporary Protection Directive, which includes this freedom of movement — also in Germany, access to social benefits from day one.”
Sereda noted that based on data from a survey conducted by PRISMA UKRAÏNA, Ukrainian refugees are successfully integrating into German society.
“If you look at Germany, the absolute priority is learning the language, recognition of professional status and education, finding a job, and renting a long-term apartment,” Sereda said. “So we do observe that this group is demonstrating aspirations of joining the German work market.”
Jakub Isański, professor of sociology at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland, shared findings about education and migration from his research, which collected responses from more than 500 Ukrainian refugees.
“There are also over 200,000 Ukrainian children attending Polish schools, many primary schools, which creates another opportunity but also challenge for the system to reorganize the number of teachers that are able to speak Ukrainian,” Isański said.
Isański also talked about a “feminized scale” of migration, which forced women to leave Ukraine while their male counterparts remained in the country.
“Families were divided, usually with mothers, wives, women in general, who were forced to flee and their husbands, brothers, sons had to stay in Ukraine,” he said.
The speakers later opened the floor for discussion, focusing on the language barrier among refugees and their country of relocation.
Vacroux put forward a question about the “German obligation to learn the language before you get the job,” raising a concern that the language barrier inhibits integration.
In response, Hummel clarified that without language training, refugees “will never have a good job” and may end up working in informal sectors at low wages.
When asked if they had noticed anything significant that had changed a year into the war, Sereda observed from her interviews that many had previously decided to not invest in integration as they were hoping to return to Ukraine soon.
“And the reason was that ‘Why invest in learning German or invest in integration if we are leaving soon?’ But starting from late summer to early autumn, it became quite obvious that this conflict is protracted for quite a longer time,” Sereda said. “They were saying that now we understand that we cannot be home soon and we have to invest much more into all these activities.”
To conclude the event, Hummel said there is “a new refugee status which we haven’t experienced in this extent in the past” due to the “high mobility” of refugees who can travel back and forth from Ukraine and Germany.
“But again, based on our experience, we expect that over 50 percent — already today — decides their future lies in West Germany or another EU country,” he said.
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