Ukrainian refugee numbers could exceed 2015 crisis: Swedish migration agency

As many as 212,000 Ukrainians could arrive in Sweden over the next few months under the most extreme of three scenarios presented by the country's Migration Agency on Friday. This would exceed the number of asylum seekers who arrived in Sweden during the 2015 refugee crisis.

Ukrainian refugee numbers could exceed 2015 crisis: Swedish migration agency
Mikeal Ribbenvik, Migration Agency general director, in a press conference alongside migration minister Anders Ygeman. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

“This is the largest and fastest-growing refugee stream in Europe since World War Two,” Anders Ygeman, Sweden’s migration minister, said at a press conference announcing the agency’s latest analysis. 

The Migration Agency presented three scenarios for how many refugees might seek shelter in Sweden, with as many as 212,000 refugees entering the country over the next few months under the most extreme scenario. 

The agency’s director general, Mikael Ribbenvik, stressed that the scenarios were “not a prognosis”, as there are “many unknown variables”.

So far, 5,200 refugees from Ukraine have registered at the Migration Agency since arriving in Sweden, Ribbenvik said, but he warned that the real number of refugees in the country was already much higher. 

“We estimate that there are maybe 4,000 per day, but we also have blind spots such as the Öresund bridge,” he said, explaining that refugees arriving by ferry or air were more easily monitored than those driving over the Öresund bridge in their own cars. 

“There are many more arriving in Sweden that what statistics show. Many travel onwards to friends and relatives, but in recent days, we’ve seen that many have started to get in touch with us. We need to consider what’s to come.”

In the lowest scenario presented by the Migration Agency, 27,000 Ukrainian refugees will arrive in Sweden between now and June, requiring an estimated 8,000 extra places to stay.

In the middle scenario – the one which the Migration Agency believes is most likely – 76,000 refugees will arrive in the country, requiring a total of 40,000 extra places in accommodation.

The most extreme scenario will only happen if the war in Ukraine continues for a long period of time or spreads to the west of the country. The agency estimates that if that comes to pass, it will need to find accommodation for 168,000 extra people.

If this were the case, more refugees would arrive in the first half of 2022 than in the entirety of the 2015 refugee crisis, where an estimated 163,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden.

In order to meet demand, the agency plans to open new offices in Växjö, Norrköping and Märsta in Stockholm to handle asylum applications, and is considering opening more should the need arise. 

In addition to this, the agency has started a national migration group to coordinate relevant authorities such as the police, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), and Sweden’s county administrative boards (Länsstyrelser).

This group met for the first time on Friday morning, and identified four focus areas: housing, financial aid, how to best coordinate with civil society, and legal issues.

The migration agency and the government are also working together with municipalities to make sure that the burden of housing refugees is split fairly between municipalities.

“We need to take our share of the responsibility, but other countries need to take their share too,” Ygeman said. “We also need to share responsibility within Sweden. We are working actively within the government to make sure there is a distribution among municipalities, so we can take our shared responsibility for accepting refugees.”

The greatest challenge for the Migration Agency will be providing housing, Ygeman said.

The Local asked Ribbenvik and Ygeman whether it was currently possible for people already living in Sweden to volunteer to offer rooms and housing to those approaching the Migration Agency. Ribbenvik said that, while this was not currently possible, it was something the national migration group was already considering. 

“It’s not currently possible for us [the Migration Agency] to accept individual offers of single rooms or homes,” Ribbenvik told The Local. “It’s frustrating for individuals but is part of the work the national migration group are undertaking. We will discuss this with civil society.”

He said that the group was considering “what needs to happen via authorities, and what can be done through civil society?”

The Local also asked whether refugees arriving in the country should go to the Migration Agency directly, or whether they should seek help from voluntary organisations first.

“In the first instance, if you know someone who can offer accommodation, go to them,” Ygeman said, referring to refugees arriving in the country. “In the second instance, reach out to a voluntary organisation. Soon, there will be an authority for these people to contact.”

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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.