© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian refugees from Mariupol region board a bus bound for Poland, at a registration and humanitarian aid center for internally displaced people, amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine May 17, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb
By Jan Strupczewski
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Lithuanian Finance Minister Gintare Skaiste urged the European Union on Monday to set up a fund that would help countries welcoming thousands of Ukrainian refugees manage the financial burden, just like the EU did for Turkey in 2016.
The United Nations estimates that some 6.5 million Ukrainians have left their country since the Russian invasion started on Feb 24th. Most of them, some 3.5 million, have entered Poland, and almost a million went to Romania.
“In Lithuania, Ukrainians are now about 2% of the population,” Skaiste told Reuters in an interview. “In Estonia it is about 2.5% and in Poland about 6-7%, so the numbers for supporting them are quite big. We are asking for some additional funds, which would be helpful in this situation,” she said.
The estimate of the average cost of a refugee for the welcoming country is about 500 euros per person per month, Skaiste said, which adds up to large numbers, which will grow further depending on how long the refugees stay.
In response, the Commission has offered EU governments flexibility in using EU funds they would have received under the last long-term budget or the current one, but no new funds.
Skaiste said this was not helpful to many eastern European countries which have already spent their EU allotments from the last EU budget and did not want to give up projects they have foreseen to be financed by the EU under the current plan.
“I do not ask for flexibility, I ask for additional funding,” she said.
“I’m asking if we could maybe think about the instrument that was used previously in the migration crisis when migrants were coming from Turkey to Greece and European Union countries decided to put up additional funds and give that money to support migrants,” she said.
To help tackle the migration crisis of 2015, the EU offered Turkey in 2016 a total of 6 billion euros to welcome 3.7 million refugees from Syria. Half of the money came from the EU budget and half from national contributions from EU countries.
Skaiste also said Lithuania was open to any proposals on the long-term funding for rebuilding Ukraine after the destruction wrought by Russian troops, including through new joint EU debt.
Germany is opposed to any new joint EU borrowing but the sums required for the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war, estimated by Kyiv at $600 billion on May 3rd, are likely to be too big for the EU to handle without a new joint debt project.
Lithuania, Slovakia, Latvia and Estonia will call at a meeting of EU finance ministers on Tuesday for the confiscation of Russian assets frozen by the EU to fund the rebuilding of Ukraine, a joint letter written by the four showed.
Skaiste said the reconstruction had to be done together with the process of accepting the country into the European Union.
“The reconstruction of Ukraine must definitely go in line with the admission of Ukraine to the European Union because there might be synergies between these two processes — the reforms implemented in Ukraine and funds for reconstruction,” she said.
Lithuania calls on EU to provide cash for Ukrainian refugees