ISTANBUL — The EU says it is not applying a double standard toward refugees from Ukraine compared to Syria, as it grapples with the biggest migration crisis in Europe since World War II.
The bloc has come under fire for allegedly welcoming refugees from Ukraine more openly, compared to their non-white counterparts fleeing conflict in the Middle East.
But EU Commission vice president Margaritis Schinas says there is no difference in the bloc’s refugee policy based on country of origin.
He adds however that the current situation with refugees from Ukraine is “unique” as the country directly borders several EU nations, unlike Syria.
“We have a number of (EU) member states that are bordering Ukraine, so actually the movement comes straight into the European Union,” he tells journalists in Istanbul.
The UN says over three million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion on February 24, with more than two million crossing into EU member Poland.
The EU has granted Ukrainian refugees temporary protection status, which gives them the right to stay, access healthcare, attend school and work.
By comparison, over 1 million people mostly from Syria reached European shores in 2015, but were not granted automatic protection status.
The EU says its member states ended up granting asylum to over 550,000 Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016.
Many Syrians have instead settled in Turkey in line with a 2016 EU deal offering incentives for Ankara, including financial assistance, for taking them in.
Schinas says the EU fulfilled its responsibility for Syrian refugees.
“We did our part and I would not see that there are double standards in this argument,” he says.
Syrians who fled the war can apply for asylum in Europe, but they are not granted automatic status as with Ukrainian refugees.