Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been fleeing the Russian invasion since Thursday and are trying to reach neighbouring Poland. A chaotic evacuation, with tens of kilometres of traffic jams on the Ukrainian side, foreshadows a large-scale humanitarian crisis.
“A worsening of the conflict could push up to 5 million people to flee beyond the Ukrainian borders,” warned a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“We are considering scenarios with ranges of 1 to 3 million people in Poland for example. A scenario of 1 to 5 million including all surrounding countries,” UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo told a regular UN press briefing in Geneva.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has estimated that nearly 1,00,000 Ukrainians have already been internally displaced as a result of Russian military operations. Meanwhile, several thousand have already crossed international borders to neighbouring countries, including Moldova, Romania and Poland, Mantoo said.
“We are seeing significant movements within Ukraine and across Ukrainian borders,” she insisted.
Faced with these forecasts of large influxes of refugees, the UN agency based in Geneva is already preparing emergency plans “for the departure of a population of one to three million people to Poland, and from one to five million to all the neighbouring countries”. But according to the UNHCR, everything will depend on the evolution of the armed conflict in Ukraine.
On the ground, the UN humanitarian agencies have decided to reactivate the plan put in place to deal with the refugee crisis that shook Europe between 2015 and 2016, following the war in Syria and its major population movements.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said it was deeply worried after the attacks of recent hours in Ukraine. “We’ve received reports of at least 127 civilian casualties; this includes 25 killed and 102 injured in Ukraine, caused by shelling and airstrikes…this is very likely to be an underestimate,” said Ravina Shamdasani, OHCHR spokesperson.
“It is very difficult to corroborate” the figures due to the volatility and the security situation which required the relocation of some of the staff. The dozens of OHCHR staff must be “extremely careful” with the indications received on the ground, she added.