European Governments Look for Ways to Send Ukrainian Refugees Home

As Project Ukraine continues to collapse, European countries are losing their enthusiasm to host Ukrainian nearly six million  refugees and in many cases, are now nudging them to return to their war-torn country.

Estonia appears to be the most zealous in this regard, talking about some sort of repatriation agreement with Ukraine, but it looks like Tallinn was informed that would be problematic.

The EU’s Temporary Protection for Ukrainians

In September, the EU extended its Temporary Protection Directive by one year, until March 4, 2025. In theory, it allows Ukrainians to get work, plus access to education, housing and medical assistance, but it is temporary. As Zeynep Şahin Mencütek, a senior researcher at the Bonn International Centre for Conflict Studies, wrote shortly after the war began:

Temporary protection status makes a huge difference. It means they live with constant ambiguity about their future and it makes for challenging encounters with local people and officials of the hosting state. Temporary protection means that migrants live under the constant fear of repatriation when the host state – or the EC – decides the country of origin has become safe and secure…

What we have learned from past use of temporary protection schemes is that they serve the interests of the host states, not those of the people fleeing danger. Temporary protection makes it easier for states to repatriate asylum seekers because they do not grant refugee status and do not commit to hosting or integrating asylum seekers permanently.

Mencütek also notes how temporary protection in Europe has been (mis)used in the past:

In 1997, however, Germany lifted this temporary protection status and repatriated 300,000 people to Bosnia, even though the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that conditions were not right for return. Other countries followed, resulting in the return of 700,000 people overall to Bosnia.

Nowadays, European economies are in tatters and look to be entering another round of austerity.  The large presence of Ukrainian refugees has in some cases drawn backlash from local populations, and some of the first budget cuts are programs to assist Ukrainian refugees.

With today’s crop of European politicians, some (like those in Estonia) may believe that getting Ukrainians to return home could help change the direction of the war.

The Ukrainian military continues to struggle to mobilize an additional 450,000 to 500,000 men, and the defense ministry is begging Ukrainian men living abroad to return home to fight.

While the EU extended its temporary protection, Ukrainians might also warrant protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention, supplemented by its 1967 Protocol. As UNHCR states,the core principle of the 1951 Convention is non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. Nevertheless, some politicians are discussing possibilities for a “safe return” to areas of Ukraine that have been less affected by Russian attacks. (Who knows what the “rules-based international order” rules say about such a scheme?)

The government in Kiev has floated the idea of drafting citizens abroad, but quickly walked it back as there’s no mechanism to do such a thing. They might try other desperate tactics, though:

Zelensky recently talked about all the incentives to encourage their return: cash payments, subsidized mortgages, startup business loans. Ukraine’s Parliament is also discussing helping soldiers to freeze their sperm for their wives in case they die in combat.

Zelensky is also pushing the idea of multiple citizenship, which would allow Ukrainians to “keep visiting.” That could be a risky trip considering some of the government’s conscription tactics.

Ukraine is getting increasingly desperate.

Just how desperate will EU countries get along with them? Some countries are already “encouraging” Ukrainians to return through other means – less generous benefits in the host country and a one-time payment to purchase a ticket.

Here’s a breakdown of Ukrainian refugees by EU country:


And here’s a look at what some countries are doing to get Ukrainians to return home.


Last year, Oslo was the first to adopt a plan to pay Ukrainians to go home, handing out 17,500 kroner ($1,200) to anyone ready to depart. Oslo is also scaling back benefits for refugees. From LSE EUROPP:

In early December, the government implemented restrictions on the rights that displaced individuals from Ukraine had previously enjoyed. Norway became the first country in Europe to introduce limitations on free travel between Ukraine and Norway for those with temporary protection. This means a Ukrainian mother in Norway may no longer be allowed to meet her husband and her children may be unable to see their father, who might be fighting on the frontline and not allowed to leave the country. Other changes included limitations on child benefits during the first year and a lowering of accommodation standards for new arrivals. On 29 January, the government announced further restrictions for displaced individuals from Ukraine.


Helsinki is paying 5,300 euros if the application is submitted within 30 days after notification of a negative asylum decision or withdrawal of the application by the applicant. After 30 days, the amount is reduced to 2,000 euros.


Roughly 7,000 mobilization-aged men from Ukraine have applied for temporary protection in Estonia, but Tallinn is the most enthusiastic about sending them back home and into the meat grinder, repeatedly expressing interest in signing a deal with Ukraine for the repatriation of relevant refugees. From Estonian Public Broadcasting:

“If Ukraine needs it, then Estonia can manage to find and repatriate this person to Ukraine,” said Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE). “We know in essence where these individuals are located and what they are doing. A lot – the majority of them work; they have places of residence in Estonia.”

No agreement has been signed yet, apparently due to international law, much to the annoyance of Estonian officials like Läänemets.

Czech Republic

Provides an undisclosed amount to refugees with temporary protection status if they leave for Ukraine. The country has also reduced state contributions for Ukrainian refugees.


Dublin recently cut Ukrainian refugee welfare rates from 220 euros a week to 38.80 euros a week, while they are staying in state accommodation. New arrivals are only permitted to access state-provided accommodation for 90 days, after which they must find their own.


New Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has vowed to keep “supporting” Ukraine, but it’s unclear if that extends to refugees in Poland. As of now, Warsaw is extending the temporary protection only until June 30 of this year, and benefits are expected to be dramatically scaled back. Warsaw had already halved support earlier in 2023.


Thousands of Ukrainian families face homelessness as the country’s “Homes for Ukraine” program, launched with much fanfare in the spring of 2022, is being quietly phased out. Tens of thousands of British families, for the derisory sum of 350 pounds a month, hosted Ukrainian refugees for six-month periods, but the government did nothing to find permanent housing for the population, and looks like time for many has run out. It’s now a choice of returning home, going somewhere else, or living on the streets.


German officials say they will not be deporting any Ukrainians. From the Kyiv Post:

The Minister of Justice of Germany, Marko Buschmann, has affirmed that Germany will not compel Ukrainian refugees to serve in the Armed Forces or deport them to Ukraine, as reported by Deutsche Welle. “Forcing people to engage in military service against their will is not our approach,” Buschmann stated.

At the same time, however, Germany did just enact a law intended to enable easier and swifter expulsion of failed asylum seekers. The new measures include longer periods of pre-deportation custody in order to give authorities more time to complete the process before having to release an individual. Police will also have extended powers to search for those ordered to leave, and access their property, such as phones. It should be noted there are exclusion clauses in the Refugee Convention:

(a) he has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, as defined in the international instruments drawn up to make provision in respect of such crimes;

(b) he has committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge prior to his admission to that country as a refugee;

(c) he has been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.”

There’s also this nugget from Deutsche Welle:

Smugglers and other kinds of criminals, including those without convictions but suspected of criminal associations, could face faster deportations, as part of efforts to “more consistently and more quickly” act against “dangerous individuals,” said Interior Minister Nancy Faeser.

Considering how gung-ho Berlin is about Project Ukraine, would it be surprising if some Ukrainians of fighting age get swept up in such efforts? Regardless, Germany is reeling from its energy crisis, is in a recession, and has decided to spend more on Project Ukraine and militarization while cutting social programs – meaning it might not be a very attractive location for Ukrainian refugees for much longer.  In September, Berlin announced that it will cut spending on refugee aid sent to states by nearly 50 percent and, according to Reuters, entirely “halt its contribution to the costs of caring for and integrating the 1.08 million Ukrainian refugees.”

Whether it’s Project Ukraine fatigue, budgetary constraints, or delusions that getting Ukrainians to return will make a difference in the war, the West that destroyed Ukraine in an effort to weaken Russia is now slowly moving towards sending Ukrainians back to the wreckage – or however much Russia decides will be left of it.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    Zelensky came up with a humdinger of an idea recently. He said that what should happen is that all the money paid to those Ukrainian refugees in all the different EU countries should be paid to Kiev instead. Then it would be up to Kiev to pay that money to all those refugees in the different country. You can imagine how that would work out in the financial black hole known as the Ukraine. I would imagine if that any refugee finds that they are getting no money at all would have to resolve that problem – in Kiev itself. The following article shows how Zelensky’s plan would work out in Germany but you could write this across all the countries of the EU-

    Germany says that it is not possible under present law but I am sure that Scholz and Habeck can come up with some sort of enabling act.

  2. ZenBean

    The male Ukrainians who are currently enjoying a comfy exile in Europe were the ones who could afford to bribe their way out of the draft. This social milieu is also exceptionally hawkish. I think it’s about time for them to have a little bit of skin in the game. They did their part, shilling for and prolonging a war they didn’t have to fight themselves from the Starbucks of Berlin or Warsaw. Now it’s time for them to either accept defeat or share the pleasures of the trenches with their less affluent compatriots.

  3. furnace

    Ghouls! They destroyed Ukraine, sent their best to the slaughter, mortgaged its future with obscene loans, and now they’re finding refugees a bit too annoying to keep around? No. They will pay the piper, and any attempts not to do so will only further Ukrainian resentment. Been a little while since the IRA and the ETA were bombing things around, so maybe European leaderships forgot what it’s like to have people dedicated to making cars extra-explosive. The Ukrainians are very well armed, though not in comparison to the Russians of course. Once the government falls and most of the country ends in Russian hands (where frankly Ukrainians will probably be treated better) I can see some more enthusiastic fellows wanting a bit of payback against such disappointing patrons such as the Germans. If they make sure that the Ukrainians that are around get to hate them as well, then they’ll even make recruiting easier.

    Have people forgotten that actions have consequences? You don’t need much more than Newtonian physics to figure that out.

    1. Joe

      I asked Gilbert Doctorow about this very issue: after the war is over there will be lots of weapons in the hands of angry, revengeful Ukrainian partisans, particularly those with ultra-nationalist views. My view was that Europe is going to have a neo-Nazi problem after the war, and likely funded by the CIA. Doctorow didn’t give much credence to it. He was in the “maybe, wait and see” camp.

      Good grief! Destabilizing US’ economic competitors around the world is what the CIA has been doing for 60 years. Ukraine is a perfect example of that well used recipe. 1. Find a simmering conflict. 2. Escalate it with psy-ops, weapons. 3. Overthrow any uncooperative gov’ts. 4. Get a war going. 5. Sell weapons on credit to new, cooperative gov’ts, make US weapons industry happy. 6. Prepare favored private investors for upcoming asset fire sale. 7. No matter the war’s final outcome, US declares victory and demands repayment for weapons. 8. Force new gov’t in destroyed country to have a fire sale on it’s few assets, favored, private investors swoop in. 9. US gov’t, weapons industry, favored investors and pols with kickbacks are happy. 10. CIA funds and arms angry partisans to bring new destabilization efforts in other countries and regions so US can later come to the rescue. Repeat 1-10.

      1. marcel

        Can’t find the reference anymore (X?, probably), but a few months ago I came across several writings of Banderites saying as much: “when Russia starts moving West, we will move West. Migration of people has always existed”.

      2. gk

        After the war? The Italian police arrested some neo-Nazi Ukrainians who were planning a terrorist attack near Naples about a year ago. Here is one article.

    2. Mikel

      I’ve been predicting blowback for over a year. That’s a term for the all-too-familiar situation you are describing.

  4. Es s Ce tera

    From the very beginning I’ve wondered if Z is not secretly supporting the Russian cause of feeding nazis to the meatgrinder. In which case, should we be admiring him?

    While I’m antiwar by default, view war as immoral, and this one was both completely unnecessary and avoidable, tragic, I live in a predominantly Ukrainian area and it really doesn’t sit well with me how aggressively nationalistic, pro-Ukraine, flag waving and anti-peace people are, even while they prefer others to do the fighting for them. These are cowards, right? They’ve abandoned their own people, left them behind. It’s hard for me to reconcile.

    But I suppose anyone who is pro-any war and not actually fighting or risking anything is a coward.

    1. furnace

      Often is the case that pro-war people are the ones who think that it won’t get to them. I’m hardly nostalgic for it, but at least during WW1 the aristocrats and bourgeoisie paid with the blood of their children for their imperialist warmongering. Where has that spirit gone?

    2. Jokerstein

      George Orwell – as so often – got this spot on when he mentioned “[…]that sight unprecedented in all history, a jingo with a bullet hole in him.

      From “As I Please” in The Tribune, May 19, 1944.

      (I note the irony that one the top hits I always seem to get when searching for an Orwell quote is from a site withe the .ru TLD.)

    3. Gregorio

      Sounds kind of like the neocon cabal that controls U.S. foreign policy.
      They love them some war, but have zero skin in the game, and seem to continuously fail upwards despite of their poor track record. I guess for them the only measure of success is that defense budgets and defense stock price remain on an upward trajectory.

  5. anaisanesse

    If any of the big-talking “delegates” to the Munich Security Conference of 2024 had taken any notice of the speech at this Conference in 2007 of one President VV Putin, none of the difficulties they are pretending to solve now would perhaps have been anywhere near the massive mess they are in now.

  6. Aurelien

    What you have to understand is that this was essentially competitive virtue-signalling by governments which all expected the war to last days, or at the most weeks, before the anticipated Russian collapse. At that point, they could convert that virtue into tangible political and economic benefits in the new Ukraine, and in what would be left of Russia. As usual with these off-the-top-of-the-head clever ideas, nobody thought about the long-term consequences. Something similar happened in 1999 during Kosovo, and although the majority of the refugees went home before the end of the year, they left the Albanian mafia behind, which in the UK, for example, rapidly took over the drugs trade in London from the West Indians. We may get something similar here. Mathematically, the idea of Banderist terrorism isn’t to be ruled out, given the number of Ukrainians in Europe and the ease with which weapons circulate, on the continent at least. If I were the US, I’d be particularly worried about Embassies and Embassy personnel, who are highly visible.

    More generally, this is going to be a real test of the whole refugee/asylum-seeker/migrant discourse with all its confusions and contradictions. Are European states going to let Ukrainians stay simply because they prefer life here, and Ukraine is a basket case? And if Ukrainians why not others? When do you stop?

  7. simjam

    The number of Ukrainians living in the US is estimated at least 300,000. There are perhaps 150,000 draft eligible males. Yet, there is no US media attention to return these individuals to Ukraine. Why is this?

    1. Rip Van Winkle

      The Ukrainian refugees should move to the old Ukrainian Village neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. It would be a big improvement. No sarc.

  8. Feral Finster

    Cut off the benefits, cut off access to bank accounts. Problem fixed.

    Probably not legal, but who cares? For that matter, the soldiers so press-ganged into service will probably not be the best-motivated, but as long as they can soak up Russian munitions, then they have done their job as far as Europe and NATO are concerned, and blocking units will make sure that they do as told.

    Of course, the Russian military is ever always only described as “conscripts” (even though they’re not) but that’s what keeps the narrative going. The press-ganged Ukrainian army is swept under the rug, a faux pas even to mention it.

    The other irony being that Russia is the safest place for a Ukrainian right now.

  9. ISL

    My SWAG is that these efforts via “incentives” will be very unsuccessful (what good is money if you are dead after 4 hours at the frontline?), unless they round up immigrants by force and at bayonet point and expel them – which is definitely not EU-sanctified.

    As with the prior wave of immigrants (from the NATO destroyed middle east) – I see a pattern, the policy goal (and it was a success) was to destroy the unions and the ability of workers to object to neo-con policy.

    It seems likely that aside from anti-immigrant noise, the EU neo-con leaders are happy about the economic effect of these Ukrainian immigrants.

    1. Feral Finster

      Garotting freedom of speech and association are not EU sanctified, but that isn’t stopping them.

      For that matter, Ukraine is hardly the plucky little democracy it is depicted as, but that doesn’t cause the propaganda to skip so much as a beat.

  10. elissa3

    Very notable from the chart of refugees in EU countries is the absence of. . . France. Was this an oversight? France certainly has a population larger than any of the other countries listed, excepting Germany.

    1. Jokerstein

      You beat me to it: that certainly puzzled me too. Either this is an oversight and/or the numbers are unavailable, or Macaroon did some deal with the EUrocrats. I can’t imagine the EU letting something like that through without some agreement…

      1. Revenant

        France has taken very few Ukrainian refugees, both in absolute and per capita numbers.

        Czechia and Ireland are leading the pack per capita.

        The UK has about 80% of the German population and yet has taken only 20%of the UA refugees, a 4x underperformance. I suspect this is more practical (Germany is an easy bus ride from UA and has higher welfare payments) than a function of UK border policies or UA cultural preferences.

        Friends are hosting UA immigrants in their annexe (house with two adjoining holiday cottages) in Devon, husband works remotely for a bank in UA and wife works remotely in accounting, two primary school age children (boy and girl) thoroughly integrated into the village. I don’t see them returning any time soon….

        1. Dandyandy

          In places I frequent outside London; Surrey and Norfolk, Ukrainian flags have all but disappeared.

          Only a silly estate agent in Burnham Market still sporting a prominent “Slava Ukraini” in its main window. What for?

    2. Aurelien

      There certainly are Ukrainians in France, but the actual numbers depend on how you count them and when. They seem to have moved quite a bit around the Schengen area since 2022, and the French figures only include those who have had some kind of formal contact with the state. Children don’t need residence permits, for example, so they may not all be counted. The best estimate is that around 100,000 are in the country.

  11. benvamin

    Really? EU citizens are tired of Ukranian refugees? What about the rest of the refuge population, from the rest of the world?

  12. ultrapope

    Looks like “Fortress Europe” is finally to taking steps to protect itself from its ultimate foe: Europeans.

  13. Oh

    How about gathering the refugees (start with Germany), put them on plane telling them they will be going to the US. Once the plane takes off, send the plane to Israel where they’ll be care givers for the aged. Once they reach there their passports will be taken away. (this is what the contractors in the Middle East did to South Asian workers lured to the ME). /s

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