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War in Ukraine: which European countries host the most refugees?

A Ukrainian woman in a gymnasium used as a refugee centre in Przemyśl, Poland on 8 March 2022
A Ukrainian woman in a gymnasium used as a refugee centre in Przemyśl, Poland on 8 March 2022 Copyright Markus Schreiber/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Markus Schreiber/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Marie Jamet
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20% of the Ukrainian population has fled the war. More than half of them have found refuge in Europe, notably in Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. But smaller countries such as Estonia are also opening their doors wide in proportion to their population.

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One year after the start of the war in Ukraine, more than 8 million Ukrainian refugees are registered across Europe, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Just over half of these exiled Ukrainian citizens - 4.8 million - fled to an EU Member State and the UK. In absolute numbers, Poland (1.5 million) and Germany (1 million) host the most Ukrainian refugees in 2023.

Each has twice as many Ukrainians as the Czech Republic (490,000), which is the third largest EU member state to host refugees from Ukraine according to UNHCR figures.

The effort does not weigh the same depending on the size of the country. In terms of refugees per 1,000 inhabitants, Estonia (50.5‰) and the Czech Republic (46.6‰), followed by Poland (41.5‰) have the highest ratios of Ukrainian refugees, again according to UNHCR figures.

This exodus is the largest and fastest refugee migration in Europe since the Second World War. Four days after the outbreak of the conflict, the UNHCR already counted 500,000 refugees.

In response to this situation, the European Union set up an emergency "temporary protection to displaced persons" system for Ukrainians fleeing the war on 4 March 2022. The number of decisions granting protection peaked in March and April 2022 and then has decreased in most EU countries.

The refugees are mainly women with young children. According to figures collected by the European statistical institute, Eurostat, from the Member States, 64% of the 3.8 million people benefiting from temporary protection are women and a third are children. The vast majority of these minors (78%) are under the age of 14.

Do the countries bordering Ukraine host the most refugees?

According to UNHCR figures, more than half of the 8 million Ukrainian refugees in Europe (4.8 million) are in the countries bordering Ukraine: Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, but also Moldova, Belarus and Russia. 2 million of them are registered in the border Member States and Moldova.

The remaining 2.8 million are in Russia and Belarus, countries which, in the emergency of a shifting frontline, can sometimes be the only recourse. Many Ukrainians also have relatives in Russia. 

However, the Ukrainian government accuses its enemy of deporting Ukrainians to Russia against their will, including children.

Within the European Union alone, Poland is the main destination for Ukrainian refugees. At the beginning of the conflict, the country granted 675,000 temporary protections in March alone. 

The Czech Republic is the second most important country in terms of temporary protection, although it has 2.5 times fewer demands granted than Poland.

The other three Member States bordering Ukraine granted far fewer applications in March 2022 than other countries further away in the EU, such as Spain, which has the highest number of applications after Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

In December, the number of Ukrainian citizens benefiting from temporary protection is slightly more spread across the EU, with movement from one Member State to another sometimes driven by opportunities in the Ukrainian diaspora.

"The arrival of the refugees was made possible by a woman who has been living in this village for ten years and who first wanted to get her relatives out of danger, and then seized the opportunity to bring in other compatriots who had nowhere else to go," reported Euronews special correspondent Carlos Marlasca in May from a village near Toledo in Spain. This was also the case for two Ukrainian women interviewed in Italy in March because they knew someone already living in Italy.

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Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy and Spain were already the countries with the largest number of Ukrainian citizens with residence permits at the end of 2021, before the start of the open war with Russia.

Which EU Member States host the most Ukrainian refugees as a proportion of their population?

However, the effort is not the same for all countries hosting Ukrainian citizens fleeing the war. On average over the whole of 2022 and as a proportion of its population, the Czech Republic took in the most beneficiaries of temporary protection granted by the EU with almost 36 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants.

It still had 41‰ refugees in December 2022, a figure that increased steadily throughout the year.

Estonia, a small country with a population of about 1 million, was hosting almost 29 Ukrainians per 1,000 inhabitants at the end of December

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Poland still had just over 25 Ukrainian citizens per 1,000 inhabitants at the end of the year, but this share has been falling steadily since September as Ukrainians either moved to other European countries or returned to Ukraine.

Romania, Denmark, Lithuania, Cyprus and Finland, for example, have seen the share of Ukrainian refugees in their populations rise sharply over the months.

France, Greece, Italy, Malta and Hungary maintained a low proportion of Ukrainians received as a proportion of their population throughout the year and had the lowest refugee ratios in December 2022.

The integration of these Ukrainians remains a challenge for each Member State and requires schooling for children and work for adults.

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