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The cost of war on refugees

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Annita Demetriou accepted a warm invitation from Poland’s Sejm Speaker Elzbieta Witek to see first-hand, with eight other female presidents of European parliaments, the Ptak reception centre and Dorhusk crossing point, as thousands of Ukrainian refugees continue to flee Russia’s invasion.

Her feelings of sorrow and heartfelt solidarity to mainly mothers and children showed this humanitarian issue must be resolved at its source.

And not allowed to drag on, as was the case of Cyprus in 1974, African boat people reaching the shores of Greece and Italy, and Syrian victims of Russian and Turkish wargames.

“We need a good plan on a joint initiative to offer support and relief,” Demetriou said.

Under the wise leadership of Ursula von der Leyen, the Union responded to the unforeseen crisis from the Covid fallout.

However, the Ukraine disaster must be viewed from a humanitarian point of view as well, as the burden this will have on future generations of Europeans.

Germany spent 0.5% of GDP to accommodate 1 million Syrian refugees in 2016, while Sweden, which received 163,000 asylum seekers, faced a cost of 1.35% of GDP in 2015, according to OECD estimates.

Ankara, which continues to sit on the fence even in the current conflict in Ukraine, was generously allocated more than €5 bln to manage the flow of Syrians.

What it did was to push them towards the Greek borders and northward through the Balkans, keeping all the money.

As a result, Lebanon has been unfairly left to fend for itself.

It has probably the biggest burden of all, accommodating Syrian refugees and migrants within its own economic crisis, exacerbated by the Beirut port blast that decimated the city’s commercial centre.

With Warsaw opening its border in an unprecedented move six months ago, it was almost impossible for a Ukrainian to get a residency or work permit, let alone access to a national health system; Poland has taken the biggest weight of the burden, accounting for 53% of the inflow of 4.9 mln refugees, according to UNHCR estimates.

A further 7.1 mln are considered displaced within Ukraine, with the cost of maintaining or relocating refugees estimated at €50-60 bln, according to DBRS Morningstar.

So far, EU funding has been limited, with the European Commission releasing a mere €420 mln in support towards the €9.1 bln pledged for the “Stand Up for Ukraine” worldwide campaign.

However, more funds are being allocated, and unspent cohesion funds will be redirected to provide services for refugees in the form of co-financing and national expenditures for up to one year.

With the per-refugee cost in Germany estimated at €12,400 in 2016, adjusted for purchasing power and inflation rates in different countries, politicians need to look beyond their self-interest.

It is up to Cyprus to move forward, reform and diversify its economic model.

It’s not just a matter of solidarity with today’s refugees but also the ability to absorb the financial cost of future humanitarian crises.

Cyprus has a lot on its plate, with the continuing transgressions and warmongering of its neighbours.