Ukrainian crisis

The EU’s activation of the Temporary Protection Directive

What is local and regional governments’ role in welcoming Ukrainian refugees?

After a month under bombs, Natalya fled Ukraine with her son, leaving behind her husband and her life searching for a safe place. Now, she lives in Italy, is hosted by a local family, speaks only Ukrainian and is looking for a job. The concrete challenges of building a new life are currently standing in front of her: Where to place the first brick of a new uncertain existence?

Many “Natalyas” – women, minors and elderly men - are settling within the borders of the European Union. To date, over 5.5 million Ukrainians have been forced to leave their country. They seek refuge especially in the EU’s border countries, such as Poland and Romania.

If Natalya exemplifies the challenges faced by these people in the EU, the Ukrainian refugee crisis as a whole – with its specificities and exceptionality – is unveiling the gaps and inadequacies of the European reception and migration system.

Cities and municipalities find themselves at the frontline of reception of the massive influx of Ukrainian citizens following the Russian invasion. But what role can local and regional governments have in shaping responses to the current and future refugee crises?

Temporary protecton: EU states unanimously agree to welcome Ukrainian refugees

The EU’s Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) has a long history of ambitious legal decisions and timid political steps. Adopted in 2001, in the context of the Yugoslav wars, its activation in early March 2022 has demonstrated the political will of national governments to react unanimously.

It guarantees immediate and temporary protection for people fleeing war in Ukraine for one year, automatically extendable by periods of six months for up to a maximum of three years. Ukrainian nationals and stateless people who resided in Ukraine and have been displaced since 24 February 2022 are eligible for temporary protection, including people who had been granted protection in Ukraine before the invasion. For other categories of beneficiaries, the choice is left to the individual countries.

The TPD guarantees immediate access to services, such as housing, health, education and employment. Despite the European Commission’s issued some operational guidelines to better explain the provisions of the Directive,  there are still information gaps that need to be addressed. To date, less than half of arriving refugees have registered for temporary protection.

The TPD is an experimental measure and some of its weaknesses have already been identified. Even if it gives newcomers the tool to initiate an integration path, its temporary nature prevents them from pursuing a sustainable one in the long term.

Local governments’ essential responsibilities in hosting and integrating refugees

The management and implementation of the TPD is in the hands of local and regional governments. Ukrainian refugees can legally have immediate access to the key integration-related services, but how flexible are our above-mentioned systems? We identified some challenges.


Private citizens have participated in a vast and immediate wave of solidarity, with many offering free accommodation in their homes. However, this cannot be a sustainable solution since European hospitality may diminish and tensions increase as the crisis persists. Thus, local and regional governments should put their structures at the disposal of refugees and promote local engagement.


Ukrainian refugees are being integrated into mainstream health care systems, but there is an indispensable need for psychological support which may be more difficult to access, particularly on account of linguistic barriers. Moreover, there is an urgent need to assist pregnant women, including those who are victims of rape as a weapon of war.

However, in some cases, it is impossible to access these services due to stricter national rules, as in the case of Poland. Local and regional governments could contribute to solutions by providing an essential safety net and developing partnerships between local and hosted families, schools and local communities.


Since almost half of arriving Ukrainian refugees are school-age children, the implications for school systems will soon become critical. Municipalities are, among other actions, creating special classes for Ukrainian students and hiring Ukrainian-speaking staff. Local and regional governments can support the process by offering training courses for teachers, ensuring psychological support, and adapting school curricula offers to Ukrainian school programmes.  


Facilitating labour market access is essential given the newcomers’ limited financial resources. Moreover, the demographic composition of arrivals implies that a relevant share of newcomers may not have been active in the Ukrainian labour market. Given that language is the key to integration, local and regional governments should work towards the reduction of barriers through providing local language classes for adults and facilitating the recognition and transferability of qualifications.

The Ukrainian crisis: an opportunity to future-proof the EU’s migration system

The TPD’s legal framework is not a straightforward one and in reality there are many diverse and obscure exceptions. As a result, local and regional governments have a difficult role in intercepting and evaluating individual cases and needs. They must always safeguard the fundamental rights of people on the move, respect human dignity, avoid discrimination and prevent human trafficking.

Longer term, local and regional governments should work closely with experts, academia and grassroots non-governmental organisations, and their peers to gather data to shape long-term solutions through genuine collaboration.

The Ukrainian refugee crisis has shown that common decisions by the EU are possible if there is a shared political will. But it has also unveiled some of the drawbacks of the European migration system. This emergency has outlined territorial differences and specificities. This is the reason why local and regional governments can play a fundamental role in identifying migrants’ needs and making the connections to find concrete and immediate solutions.

Although critics focus on the excessive attention given to the Ukrainian refugee crisis in comparison with other migration-related situations, this crisis can be considered a critical juncture. It is an opportunity to verify whether the temporary protection system put in place now can also work for the future and for other groups of migrants. Moreover, it should trigger the EU to push through the technical problems and red tape preventing the adoption of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum.  This piece of legislation could benefit from the moment of unity, solidarity and attention, and act as a real fresh start in European migration management.


CEMR initiatives:

Migration is a key theme for the Council of Local and Regional Governments. This is why CEMR reacted to the Ukrainian emergency from the very beginning by supporting the Ukrainian people and the cities via the Association of Ukrainian Cities (AUC). CEMR has promoted various statements, established a Task Force on Ukraine composed of CEMR’s members, and facilitated the exchange of information and ideas among its national associations of LRGs. As part of CEMR's coverage of the local and regional dimension of Russia’s war in Ukraine, CEMR is highlighting the help given by European municipalities and regions to their Ukrainian peers. Hoping these stories of good practices inspire other local and regional governments to heighten their efforts to support Ukraine. In addition, CEMR decided to enhance some of its projects in order to address emerging needs. Firstly, it triggered a process of re-designing the Bridges of Trust project, aimed at increasing cooperation and exchanges between municipalities in Ukraine and the EU. Secondly, IncluCities explored the solutions put in place by project partners at its  Steering Committee that took place at the end of March. Some municipalities are coordinating private initiatives and acts of solidarity. Others are strengthening their relationship with their twin cities in bordering countries, such as Poland. Furthermore, IncluCities is starting a series of webinars to bridge the information gap and offer exchanges with EU officials on topics related to the reception of Ukrainian refugees.

Read more on the CEMR website.