Global Ethics Review: Ukrainian Refugees & the International Response, with Michael W. Doyle

Apr 21, 2022 33 min listen

Since the Russian invasion began in late February, millions of Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes. In this Global Ethics Review podcast, Senior Fellow Michael Doyle discusses what this means on the ground in Eastern Europe, what governments are and should be doing to help, and how this refugee stream is different from ones that came before.

ALEX WOODSON: Welcome to Global Ethics Review. I'm Alex Woodson from Carnegie Council, the world's catalyst for ethical action.

In this podcast series, we'll be connecting Carnegie Council's work and current events with our senior fellows, senior staff, and friends of our organization. You'll hear from leading experts on artificial intelligence and technology, migration, public health, and U.S. foreign policy and global engagement.

This week, I’m speaking with Professor Michael W. Doyle about Ukrainian refugees and the international response. Professor Doyle is a university professor at Columbia University affiliated with the School of International and Public Affairs, the Department of Political Science, and the Law School. He is also a senior fellow at Carnegie Council for the Model International Mobility Convention or MIMC.

Since the Russian invasion began in late February, millions of Ukrainians have been forced to leave their homes. Professor Doyle and I discuss what this means on the ground in Eastern Europe, what governments are and should be doing to help, and how this refugee stream is different from ones that came before.

For more from Professor Doyle, including two podcasts on MIMC, you can go to carnegiecouncil.org.

For now, here’s our talk on Ukrainian refugees and the international response.

Professor Michael Doyle, thank you so much for talking with us. Great to have you back on the podcast.

MICHAEL DOYLE:
Alex, delighted to join you.

ALEX WOODSON:
You have spent some time in Germany recently. As someone who has been over there in Europe during this crisis, during the war in Ukraine, and has been following this issue closely—in America and other countries, most of us are not directly affected by this, we see the news, we see all these stories about Ukrainian refugees. I don't think we are getting the full story. What can you tell Americans and other people who haven't been directly affected by this war that maybe we don't know that you think we should know about the situation today?

MICHAEL DOYLE:
There are a few things.

One of them is that the Ukrainians are meeting a really warm and generous reception from the Europeans. You can see a genuine welcome for the refugees coming from Ukraine moving West into Europe. Most are being taken care of in Poland, large numbers also in Slovakia and Moldova.

Increasingly they are moving into Germany. At the train station you can see German students, nongovernmental organizations, unions, and social services out there welcoming families with open arms. This is so far a good model of providing asylum for truly desperate people who have fled to save their lives from a horrendous invasion that their country is now suffering.

ALEX WOODSON:
You mentioned a lot of the bordering nations. I am just going to read a couple of numbers here because it is really staggering the numbers of people who have been moving. Poland has accepted around 3 million refugees. Moldova, which has a population of about 2.6 million people, has accepted over 400,000 refugees. Similar numbers in Hungary, Slovakia, small countries that are accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees.

How are these nations coping with this huge influx of people? I know some of these nations don't have as much money as other Western European nations or as much money as the United States. How are these nations coping with hundreds of thousands and millions of new people coming into their countries?

MICHAEL DOYLE:
The first is local generosity. They're ordinary people volunteering, bringing food, clothing, etc. It is also the case that in those countries the governments have stepped up and are providing assistance.

And, as a temporary measure, the European Union has also been mobilized. They have a plan for caring for refugees on a regional scale, but it has not yet been fully approved, gone through the various procedures, so they are using various stopgap measures. Poland, for example, is receiving funding from the European Union, from Brussels, to help pay for the support that they are offering.

All of this is very important. It means that we are seeing a not quite coordinated but a generous response from civil society, national governments, and the European-wide organization of the European Union. All that I think is quite impressive and worthwhile.

ALEX WOODSON:
It sounds like you think that the Western European nations and the European Union are doing a lot to help these refugees. It sounds like you think they are in a good position.

Do you think they should be doing more, or do you think that they have really come together in this situation to help out these refugees?

MICHAEL DOYLE:
They really have come together. But let me stress that they are basically sticking together money from various different sources none of which is fully dedicated to or geared to refugee support. So it's great that the money is showing up and supporting the refugees, it's great that the welcome is there, but this really is not sustainable with a better organized, systematic program which is still in the works in Brussels. They are still innovating on this.

To shift to the refugees and their needs, this is a somewhat special situation. Compared to all other refugee flows in Europe, for example, since World War II, this is the largest and quickest. There have been other larger flows of refugees in the world, but they were usually slower—for example, Afghans, as well as Syrians, and many, many others. This is fast and very large, the largest in Europe.

The second thing that is quite interesting and special is that many refugee flows are of young men who often can most easily escape or sometimes of intact families that are able to move across. What is special about this flow of refugees is that it is overwhelmingly women and children. Because of the draft laws and other laws within Ukraine, young men all the way through until they are in their 60s and not so young anymore are required to stay and fight. So it is their families, their women and children, who are 90 percent of the flow of these refugees.

Lastly, compared to most refugees, this is somewhat elderly. About 30 percent of them are over 60. This is quite special. What that means is that they are not in a good position to be "self-sustaining" anytime soon. These women are more than capable of working, needless to say, but if they are taking care of one, two, or three children at the same time, they are not going to be able to work until they get some form of daycare assistance; while if you are talking about an intact family, usually the mother or the father can work while the other takes care of the children. So a lot of social service needs, a lot of needs for education, many, many young children in this group, and not intact families, not young men. That is what makes this pretty special given the other major flows of refugees in the past 20 to 30 years.

ALEX WOODSON:
I want to speak about that a little bit more. You mentioned these past flows of refugees. Just about seven-eight years ago, there was a huge flow of Syrian refugees into Europe, there have been Afghan refugees, and there have been a lot of refugees from West Africa, North Africa, and East Africa as well. I am not in Europe. I do not know this specifically, but from what I have heard the reception of those refugees was very different than the reception of Ukrainian refugees.

I was wondering if you could speak a bit to that. As you have just said, the Ukrainians have gotten a very warm reception in Poland, Germany, and places like that. How does that differ from the refugee flow back in 2014 and 2015 when it was Syrians and people from North Africa and West Africa mostly?

MICHAEL DOYLE:
On the one hand, good news and bad news.

The good news is that this reception fits the kind of receptions that take place in other parts of the world when neighbors take in neighbors. For example, the Jordanians removed any barriers on their border and took hundreds of thousands of Syrians in. The Turks did the same thing for Syrians. The Pakistanis did the same thing for Afghans. Ugandans and others have done similar things for Ethiopians and to a certain extent, though not quite as much, Somalis. So there is a global pattern of neighbors providing assistance to neighbors in ways that really speak to the decency of the human spirit. That's the good part of this. This fits that pattern, so Poles are providing welcomes to Ukrainians, so are Slovakians for Ukrainians, and so are Moldovans, etc. It fits that good, humane pattern.

The other part of it, as you mentioned, is that the Syrians, Afghans, and others who came into Europe in 2016 early on got a welcome, but soon after that there was a good deal of tension on the question of whether they would ever be integrated or not and how they would behave. There was some bad behavior by young men in Germany in 2016, but the vast, vast majority of refugees simply were very much welcomed and were grateful for the refuge that they were receiving. A few really bad apples created a lot of headlines, even though the reality was that the refugees were just awfully grateful for the opportunity.

So we do see a difference. There have been a couple of instances on this flow where Africans and Middle Easterners were mixed in with the Ukrainian refugees in very small numbers, but they were discriminated against at the border. That old pattern of discriminating against Middle Easterners, Africans, and others by Europeans still held, and that is a sad story that we see that kind of concerned discrimination.

And not just in Europe. Remember in the United States under the Trump administration everyone from Islamic countries was barred in various circumstances that were manifestly discriminatory. And it's not the case that most refugees coming across Mexico into the United States get a warm welcome, and indeed they got a very hostile reception during the Trump administration.

So hostility is not unusual to far foreigners. It is reprehensible. But the one thing about this refugee reception in Europe that is also typical is that neighbors tend to be pretty good to neighbors, and so the Europeans were to Ukrainians. It is regrettable, to say the least, that they weren't and did not remain equally receptive or generous toward Middle Easterners, Africans, and others who are attempting to get refuge in their countries, and in that they are just like the United States basically.

ALEX WOODSON:
I want to stay on this point a little more. There is a quote that stuck with me from early March from the Bulgarian prime minister, Kiril Petkov, speaking about the refugees from Ukraine as compared to refugees from other nations. This is his exact quote, probably translated from Bulgarian: "These people are European. These people are intelligent. They are educated people. This is not the refugee wave we had been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people of unclear pasts who could have been even terrorists."

That is the ugly side, as you said mixed, in with "We are helping these Ukrainians because they are Christians, because they are neighbors." I don't know if I am surprised, but it is not great to see the Bulgarian prime minister just put it out there like that. How pervasive is this?

MICHAEL DOYLE:
Mr. Orbán said some similar things as well. It is not just Bulgaria.

ALEX WOODSON:
Of course not.

MICHAEL DOYLE:
It is significant, and it is really reprehensible, as you say, given the requirement that countries provide refuge for refugees.

ALEX WOODSON:
As you said, Mr. Orbán said something similar. I'm sure other people in other countries have said something to a similar effect as well.

I take your point that neighbors help neighbors, but what can be done to counter this type of attitude? How can we move past that and see Ukrainians need help, Syrians need help, and Afghans need help? I know it's a big question, but this is just something that I thought of when I saw that quote.

MICHAEL DOYLE:
It's certainly an issue. It's a problem. I think it has to do with prejudices that are pretty deep in this country and in many, many other countries in the world that need to be addressed for what they are.

The other policy response, which I think is promising, is that we should recognize forms of global responsibility in a variety of different ways.

One for countries like the United States, and I commend the Biden administration for stepping up and offering 100,000 places for resettling Ukrainian refugees coming to the United States. I think that is important. We should do that in similar contexts elsewhere for those people who can't get refuge through local integration amongst neighbors.

The other form of solidarity that is very important is financial. That is, we should recognize a global responsibility for refugees. It's not as if Poland, Slovakia, or Moldova are in any way directly responsible for those refugees—the person who is responsible is Putin for his invasion, we're not going to get any help from him for obvious reasons—but we're all tied in this together as a world, and for that reason we should recognize a form of global cooperative solidarity, that a refugee anywhere is a responsibility everywhere. So the United States, for example, as well as other wealthy countries, should contribute some share to the adequate financing of refugees.

Most refugees will want to and benefit from staying near to their country of origin under the hope, sometimes vain, that they can go back home, and under the other reality that they have been welcomed locally. The other reality is that there are often cultural and other similarities that make for a less traumatic transition.

But it is really important in my view—and this is something that in the Model International Mobility Convention that the Carnegie Council has as one of its projects that we strongly advocate for—that there be global responsibility sharing. The Modern International Mobility Convention proposes a scheme that would allow more responsibility sharing both through resettlement, bringing refugees from places of the world where they need to move from, and also financing—financing on the basis of gross domestic product, population, past refugee loads, and unemployment—so that there is a fair distribution around the globe of the financial cost of supporting refugees.

The bottom line why this is so important is that 86 percent of the world's refugees are being taken care of by developing countries, that is, the countries least able to afford it. Most of the refugees today are in Southern Turkey, they are in Jordan, they are in Pakistan, they are in Uganda, they are in Tanzania, they are in Colombia where the Venezuelans have fled to—and they shouldn't have to bear the financial cost of that on their own. There should be a reasonable and fair formula that allows for cost sharing. Even if, as is sometimes reasonable, most of the refugees stay nearby, they should have financial support globally.

ALEX WOODSON:
We have talked a couple of times about the Model International Mobility Convention, and I will link to those podcasts in the transcript on the pages for this podcast.

I want to talk a little bit more about the United States. You mentioned that the Biden Administration has said that they are finding places for 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, which sounds like a very generous number to me.

Have you been happy with the Biden administration's response to the refugee crisis? Should they be doing more? How do you see them right now?

MICHAEL DOYLE:
Yes and no. The 100,000 is a good number, but remember we are up to 4.8 million Ukrainians who have fled, so the Europeans will still be front and center.

I think the key thing is that we need better coordination to support refugees. The Europeans again are front and center, but the importance of the United States playing a role—so that we don't say "Oh, this is just a European problem"—is symbolically and financially significant and something that needs to be done. I applaud the 100,000. We probably will need to think about more.

The United States has taken the lead on the military defensive response, sending weapons and other forms of assistance to Ukraine to defend itself, and I think that also is commendable, but it doesn't exhaust our responsibility. In order for the refugees to be cared for well, the Europeans will have to be front and center, which means that they need to get their own act together. They will need U.S. solidarity through resettlement of refugees and some degree of financing for Ukrainian refugees.

The problem is that there is no single adequate coordinating group that is putting us all on the same age to avoid duplication, to make sure there are no gaps. This is all done by agencies that have incomplete mandates that don't necessarily connect up. The president would really be well-advised, in my opinion, to appoint a presidential coordinator, somebody that he would appoint to help make sure that our refugee assistance in its various different forms is linked up with the Europeans and that we are coordinated so that we are presenting to the Ukrainians what they need for a refuge that is going to be longer than a few months—this is not going to be resolved quickly—but probably less than some of the more typical and large-scale refugee flows that we have seen around the world recently, including Afghans who have fled to Pakistan and now elsewhere and the Syrians, who are very unlikely to be able to go back home, to be frank, anytime.

If Mr. Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians can successfully defend at least the Western half of Ukraine, sometime in the not-too-distant future, within the next year or two years, the Ukrainian refugees in Europe may be able to go back home. They will need assistance to do so.

The other thing we haven't mentioned that is part of this whole package are the internally displaced persons (IDPs). More than 6 million in Ukraine have fled from the East to the West, and they do not have a United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) agency that can look after them. UNHCR only looks after persons who have fled across borders. For the people still inside the border that is a haphazard hodgepodge of assistance that does or does not get there.

A very good source of this coordinated response that I just mentioned would be making sure that increased and adequate assistance goes to the 6 million who are displaced in Western Ukraine so they don't have to flee a border to get help. That would be I think very important.

ALEX WOODSON:
It is such an important point because people have traveled hundreds of miles within Ukraine and they are dealing with a lot of the same issues that people in Poland and Slovakia are dealing with as well, but they might not have the system set up to support them.

MICHAEL DOYLE:
Yes.

ALEX WOODSON:
One other topic that I would like to discuss is an op-ed that you, Dorothea Koehn, and Janine Prantl wrote for The Washington Post back in early March saying that Putin's assets should be frozen and then used to pay for humanitarian assistance to help Ukraine. Can you tell us a little bit more about this and how you came to this idea?

MICHAEL DOYLE:
The idea came from observing what was happening. Assets were being frozen. At the same time, we were seeing immense devastation of Ukraine by this aggressive war waged by Putin and a likely large cost that will need to be paid to support the 4 million refugees that have been chased into Europe and the 6 million IDPs.

Immense costs have been imposed upon Ukraine and the Europeans. The yearly cost of a refugee in Europe is about €10,000, so 4 million Ukrainian refugees cost €40 billion a year. As it now stands, that will be paid for by the European taxpayer, and that is a lot of financial burden.

Well, the real culprit here is of course Mr. Putin, so why should his and Russian assets be left simply protected while frozen while the European and American taxpayers will wind up picking up the financial burden? I thought as a simple matter of justice one should go after the culprit's assets, the way in which one seizes the assets of organized criminal groups whose assets get seized if they are part of an ongoing criminal enterprise.

Now, Russia is not a per se "ongoing criminal enterprise," but Mr. Putin's actions have certainly been criminal. There are documented war crimes as well as the crime of aggressive war that is taking place, and therefore it's totally a matter of simple justice that they should be forced to contribute to the cost of the refugees and pay for the immense cost of reconstruction that will be incurred in Ukraine.

So the idea was to seize the assets. Some assets are more seizable, like Russian State assets. Some of Russia's balance of payments surpluses tend to be invested in London, New York, Toronto, Frankfurt, and other major capitals. Those State assets could certainly be seized.

The private assets are more complicated. In some jurisdictions they receive special protection, as they do in the United States. But we shouldn't think of Putin's assets or those of his close oligarchic allies as simple private property, the product of hard work, savings, etc. These are predominantly resources looted from the Russian State.

This government is one that is personalistic, it is run by Putin, supported by a score or more of close oligarchs whom he has set up and who prop him up. To a certain extent, these oligarchs and Putin himself—the big oligarch—are the government, so drawing a distinction between the State and private property, which we do domestically here under the U.S. Constitution, makes a lot less sense for Russia than it does for many, many other countries.

I think both sources should be subject to seizure, Russian State funds that are held in banks, and the assets of Putin and the immediate oligarchs who are his cronies in crime and cronies in holding up a Russian policy that is engaged in the aggressive war in Ukraine. I think those can be as a matter of simple justice fairly seized.

ALEX WOODSON:
It makes a lot of sense to me. What has been the reaction among policymakers—I don't know if you presented it to people specifically—and what are the chances that something like this could actually happen?

MICHAEL DOYLE:
Unfortunately, I think the chances are still a little low. Many people—for example, Senator Bennet and two or three other senators, on the floor mentioned that it was time to seize these assets. Senator Bennet began investigating what sort of legislation might be necessary in order to make this feasible to supplement the presidential powers that are available. So there is some motion here.

At the same time, there is immense let's call it "ideological resistance" on the part of American legislators to seizing "private property" for public purposes. We do it all the time for organized crime, but the idea of seizing private property runs into strong ideological resistance, not recognizing the extent to which in an oligarchy like Putin's the distinction between private and public property is purely theoretical from the standpoint of these oligarchs and Putin himself.

There is a bill in the Canadian Parliament to do the same thing, that is, to seize Putin's assets and those of his close supporters, so it is getting some resonance.

In Europe, where they have different ideological traditions, there have already been some seizures. You have probably seen in the news—your listeners have too—seizing "whose yacht is that" on a day-to-day basis.

So there are measures afoot to seize some of these assets, but not systematically in the way that will need to be done if one is going to take on costs that are likely to be, as I mentioned, €40 billion a year to support the refugees in Europe.

Is €100 billion too small a figure to begin to reconstruct the damage that all of us have seen on TV to the cities of Ukraine, to all the major cities in the East which are simply being leveled? Pictures that I have seen of Mariupol in the East show simply utter devastation; it doesn't look like there is a roof on a building anywhere in the city. Scores of billions, maybe hundreds of billions, will be required to rebuild Ukraine someday, and the people who did it—that is, Putin and his oligarchic supporters and Russia as a whole—should be held accountable, if it is feasible, over time.

ALEX WOODSON:
We will be following this closely over the months and years.

My last question. What can individual people who are listening to this podcast do to help Ukrainian refugees? Maybe there are some organizations that are doing some good work.

MICHAEL DOYLE:
What we Americans have done many times in the past—that is, provide person-to-person assistance. If you go on the Web, you will find a whole group of Ukrainian-focused NGO activities that are out there providing assistance. American churches, synagogues, and mosques have stepped up in the past to sponsor and assist refugee families.

We are talking here about the 100,000 to whom President Biden plans to issue visas. Many of these visas are being allocated very slowly. They could go faster if they could get sponsorship from the groups that I mentioned.

And of course there is the opportunity to make a financial contribution. I would contact the Red Cross or some other reputable agency to get their recommendations—indeed, the Red Cross itself is one—to provide the kind of assistance that is going to be needed.

But individual persons can do something, and anything they can do, you can be pretty sure will be greatly appreciated.

ALEX WOODSON:
Okay, Professor Michael Doyle, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

MICHAEL DOYLE:
Alex, always great to speak with you. Have a good day.

ALEX WOODSON:
Thank you.

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