The world is faced with another refugee crisis of the last century. The number of Ukrainians who had to flee their country in just two months approached the number of Syrian refugees. Support to Life is trying to make the necessary responses against this major humanitarian crisis. Let us take a brief look at the legal status of Ukrainian refugees in Europe and Turkey, what possible developments can unfold on this issue.

Situation in Europe

According to data provided of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the total number of asylum seekers who fled from Ukraine after the attacks launched by Russia on February 24, 2022 to invade Ukraine reached 5,372,000 as of April 27, 2022.

Refugees predominantly fled to the country's western border neighbors, Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Moldova. There were also those who sought refuge to Ukraine's northern neighbor, Belarus, and its eastern neighbor, Russia[1]. According to UNHCR data, the distribution of Ukrainian refugees by country as of April 27, 2022 is as follows:

Poland: 2,922,978
Romania: 782,598
Hungary: 496,914
Moldova: 435,275
Russia: 614,318
Slovakia:  357,560
Belarus: 24,477

The fact that the number of Ukrainian refugees approached the total number of Syrian refugees in the world, that is, 5,724,000 in just two months, shows that an even bigger crisis than the Syrian refugee problem awaits the region[2]. As a matter of fact, UNHCR expects the number of Ukrainian refugees to reach 8.3 million by the end of 2022[3]. This means that we are witnessing one of the biggest refugee crises in the world since World War II.

In the face of the number of refugees exceeding 5 million in a short time, the European Union (EU) took a decision on March 4, 2022 and accepted temporary protection status for all Ukrainian asylum seekers in line with the Temporary Protection Directive of July 20, 2001.

Within the scope of this status, which is similar to the temporary protection status applied to Syrians in Turkey since 2014, temporary protection status was granted to Ukrainian citizens who fled Ukraine and arrived at the borders of the European Union after February 24, 2022, and to foreigners who had the legal right to stay in Ukraine.

In line with the Temporary Protection Directive, those that were granted the status, which is initially valid for one year, will benefit from the right to residency and shelter, access to social assistance, access to health, the right to work, access to education and the right to travel freely in EU countries for 90 days. Ukrainians who were in the EU countries before February 24, 2022 and are no longer be able to return to their countries will also be able to apply for temporary protection status in the country they are in, and if their application is not accepted, they will be able to apply for international protection status.

The duration of the status, which will be applied in all EU member states until 4 March 2023, can be extended for one more year depending on the conditions and can be maintained until 4 March 2024. However, this period will be determined by the situation in Ukraine.

The temporary protection status that the EU must apply due to mass migration does not remove the right of Ukrainians to apply for international protection status. As stipulated in the 1951 Geneva Convention, those who claim that they will be "persecuted" if they return to Ukraine because of their "race, religion, nationality, membership of a certain social group or political opinion" will also be able to apply for international protection status. However, the situation of these individuals will be evaluated on an individual basis.

Situation in Turkey

According to official statements, the number of Ukrainians who came to Turkey after February 24, 2022 increased to over 85,000 as of April 27, 2022 [4]. The Directorate General of Migration Management, which did not disclose data after March 11, announced that 407 Ukrainians who had arrived until that date had applied for international protection status [5]. However, no explanation was made regarding the legal status of Ukrainians who came to Turkey after this date.

Those who come from Ukraine, which is one of the countries where Turkey applies visa exemption, have the right to stay for 90 days. Those who need to stay longer than 90 days must apply for one of the types of residence permit or international protection status. 6 types of residence permits are regulated in the Law on Foreigners and International Protection (LFIP): short-term residence permit, family residence permit, student residence permit, long-term residence permit, humanitarian residence permit, residence permit for victims of human trafficking.

Short-term residence permits and humanitarian residence permits, which are among these types of permits, are expected to be widely applied. The short-term residence permit, which is granted to those who own immovable property in Turkey and to those who will stay for tourism purposes, can be granted for a maximum of two years each time.

It is envisaged that the humanitarian residence permit, stipulated in Article 46 of the Law on Foreigners and International Protection, can be granted in "extraordinary circumstances". In this context, it is likely that this type of permit, which gives the right of residence for one year in the first stage, will find an application area for Ukrainians. However, other types of residence permits listed above may be possible for those whose families live in Turkey, those who have real estate in Turkey or those who will start a business, or Ukrainians studying in Turkey[6].

As noted above in terms of international protection status, the situation of each applicant will be evaluated individually. Similarly, for Ukrainians who come to Turkey, secondary protection status given to those who cannot be qualified as “refugees or conditional refugees but are at risk of being persecuted if they are sent back to their country of origin or residence country" may also be considered. In terms of this status, the individual situation of each applicant will be evaluated by the immigration administration and a decision will be made accordingly.

Although it is thought that the number of Ukrainians who took refuge in Turkey has risen to over 85,000 in a short time and the factor of mass movement in the first paragraph of Article 91, which regulates temporary protection status in the LFIP, has been realized, no public discussion on temporary protection status has been held until now.

 Efforts by Support to Life

Support to Life Association started its efforts to response in the refugee crisis in the region shortly after the start of the Ukraine war. In this context, as of March 15, 2022, investigations were carried out in Romania, Moldova, and Poland, which are the countries most affected by the crisis. The works of the stakeholder organizations in these countries was monitored, basic needs were determined, and trainings on the core principles of humanitarian aid were given. At the same time, in-kind supports and cash aids were started in Romania and Moldova, and the planning phase of cash aids was initiated in Poland. Support to Life Association also closely monitors the situation of Ukrainian refugees coming to Turkey, continues its efforts to determine their needs and to provide the necessary support within this framework.

Hamza Aktan
Legal Sector Manager
Support to Life

[1] For daily updated data see:
[2] For current date see:
[3]For UNHCR statement see:
[4] For statement of President Erdoğan, see:
[5] For statement of Immigration Department, see:
[6] For detailed information on how to apply for residence permits and the required documents, see the Immigration Administration Page with Turkish, English, Russian and Arabic language options:


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