Today’s Council of Ministers ended with a press conference outlining Portugal’s fast track asylum plan for incoming Ukrainian refugees.
In a sense the news was confirmation of soundbites that have come over the last few horror-filled days.
The Ministers of the Presidency, Justice/ internal administration and labour and social security explained how incoming Ukrainians will be offered accommodation, employment, social security numbers, fiscal numbers – essentially everything they need in the immediate short-term, with ‘no questions asked’.
As Francisca Van Dunem, minister for justice/ internal administration explained, generally, the ‘risk’ faced by each and every asylum seeker has to be evaluated. In this case, there is no need, every single Ukrainian arriving is fleeing an imminent risk to life.
A national task force is thus being created to accompany these arrivals (right now numbers are low: around 2,000), to help them find accommodation and to guide them to the various platforms that are offering employment opportunities.
The task force is made up of municipalities, civic organisations, IPSS (State-funded social solidarity institutions) and the Portuguese Ukrainian community, which is networking tirelessly to welcome their exhausted, traumatised compatriots.
According to Francisca Van Dunem Portugal’s ‘simplified procedure’ ensuring shelter and succour will have an initial time-period of one year, extendable for two six-month periods “provided that conditions are maintained that prevent people from returning” to Ukraine.
Portugal’s doors will also be open to other nationalities fleeing Ukraine, she added – even those without the correct documentation. As long as there is no suggestion that they have committed crimes against Humanity, or other serious crimes, Portugal’s offer of temporary protection in time of war remains.
Again, the full number of Ukrainians expected to leave their embattled country was given as “possibly as many as four million” – the idea being that these will be ‘equitably distributed over Member States’.
This morning’s news came as Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the European Parliament by videolink, in another poignant update on spiralling events in his country. Two cruise missiles hit the city of Kharkiv today, causing enormous damage and loss of life.
“Without you Ukraine is alone”, he told his hushed audience. “Prove that you are with us, prove that you will not leave us alone. And then life will win over death, and light will overcome darkness”.
European Commissioner Ursula Von der Leyen has since tweeted: “This is a moment of truth for Europe.
“How we respond today to what Russia is doing will determine the future of the international system.
“We must show the power that lies in our democracies”.