The slowdown of international migration witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic was reversed in 2021, due to a strong bounceback in economic activity and the re-opening of borders, increasing labour needs, and a resumption of visa processing. Yet 2022 has been marked by even greater flows, resulting from Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine. Beyond the human tragedy, the war has triggered a refugee and humanitarian crisis at a scale unforeseen in Europe since the Second World War. Close to 5 million Ukrainians have fled to the EU and other OECD countries, while many more have become displaced inside Ukraine.

OECD countries reacted to the Ukrainian refugee crisis decisively and quickly, meeting the sudden and unexpected massive inflows of people seeking protection with unprecedented support. The policy responses by OECD countries built on lessons from previous experiences with large-scale refugee inflows and were adapted to this new situation. Countries co-ordinated their responses, establishing different channels of consultation and collaboration to manage information flows between stakeholders within countries – between ministries, municipalities, and non-governmental organisations – and across borders, allowing for continuous adaptation as the crisis developed. Meanwhile, governments implemented effective and proactive communication strategies to inform both the refugees themselves and the public at large about their actions.

The European Union, by invoking the Temporary Protection Directive for the first time in its history, was able to swiftly mobilise resources to manage the influx in the EU and to ensure the immediate protection and rights of those eligible. Upon registration, beneficiaries of temporary protection immediately received a residence permit, as well as access to employment, accommodation, health, and education for persons under 18 years, alongside many other rights. Outside the EU, other OECD countries also took impressive actions to provide immediate support to Ukrainian refugees. Several countries, including Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, launched new migration schemes and policies to welcome Ukrainians fleeing the war. Many other exceptional measures have also been taken, as outlined in Chapter 4 of this Outlook.

Alongside governments, citizens and NGOs have stepped forward in many OECD countries to provide support to Ukrainian refugees. The positive impulse for solidarity and the groundswell of civil society action has been broadly acknowledged and often supported by public initiatives. This has allowed countries to do much more with the resources available. The impact has been most visible in relation to providing shelter for new arrivals. Many countries, including Poland, have relied extensively on a system of volunteers to meet the demand for housing.

Overall, OECD countries have managed the early phase of the crisis well, drawing extensively from previous experiences. However, we are entering the next phase of the Ukrainian refugee crisis triggered by Russia’s ongoing large-scale aggression against Ukraine. We all hope that those who have fled Ukraine will have the chance to return home shortly and safely. However, considering both the destruction of the country and the traumatic experiences of refugees, we must also think about individuals who are unable to return to their homes, or who wish to remain in the host countries where they have started to rebuild their life. We need to be prepared for the possibility that many refugees will remain in OECD countries for the near future. Considering this, countries need to explore “dual intent” solutions that give refugees quick access to full-scale integration support without hampering a possible return to Ukraine once the situation allows.

Evidence is clear that investing in refugees’ language skills is key to facilitating the insertion of Ukrainian children into national school systems as well as ensuring their parents’ smooth entry into labour markets. It is also an investment to foster longer-term relationships between Ukraine and its population with the EU and the OECD.

Education will also play a key role. Access to public education for minor children has been available in all OECD countries from the start of the refugee crisis, but the start of the 2022-23 school year has seen many more Ukrainian children entering national education systems. Host countries made major efforts to scale up their classroom and teaching capacities in time, for instance by recruiting Ukrainian teachers. In parallel, many new initiatives are also being introduced by educational institutions and other stakeholders to facilitate learning opportunities and skills development for adults. Education and training at any age is an important vehicle for integration, with obvious positive spillover effects once these new skills are taken back to Ukraine to rebuild the country.

Ukrainians’ existing skills should be fully recognised as well and a quick entry into the labour market promoted. Most of the displaced adults from Ukraine have post-secondary education, so they are well placed to find work, especially at a time when labour and skills shortages are looming in so many sectors (OECD Employment Outlook 2022). One crucial area that host countries need to address in relation to this is access to childcare, which is particularly critical considering that most working-age adults from Ukraine are women with children. Capitalising on the skills of Ukrainian refugees will boost not only the economies of host countries but will also help the refugees to be self-reliant. That the skills of Ukrainians are not left idle during their forced displacement is also imperative for the reconstruction of Ukraine.

Different obstacles to integration, however, remain. Access to affordable and durable housing is one of them. Housing is a precondition for refugees to restore some stability in their lives but is of limited availability in many receiving countries, especially in Europe. The rapid influx of Ukrainian refugees happened in the context of significant pre-existing housing challenges, such as insufficient housing supply and rising costs. Solutions to this need to be found soon, as strains on the existing housing stock show no sign of lessening.

It is important to recognise that further migration flows, from Ukraine or other parts of the world, may be triggered by Russia’s on-going war against Ukraine. Early lessons from the current crisis can help us prepare. Unified and well-coordinated policy responses across countries allowed us to respond and to adapt quickly to the first refugee wave. The current experience has also stressed the importance of public opinion and support during migration crises. This poses the question of how best to harness and maintain this level of solidarity in the long-term, especially as the indirect economic consequences of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine are increasingly felt by host countries. The capacity to maintain public support will, at least in part, depend on speedy and successful inclusion of Ukrainian refugees already in host countries.

The Ukrainian refugee crisis will shape international migration for years to come. Undoubtedly, the road ahead will not be easy, but OECD countries are putting past lessons into practice and working together to address the situation. It is important though to continue to take bold actions based on good practice to confront the challenges during the next phase of this humanitarian crisis. This is crucial to provide the necessary support to Ukrainian refugees and pave a way for rebuilding Ukraine.


Stefano Scarpetta,

Director for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs,


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