Back Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons

As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe


Chair of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, dear Oleksii,

Mr Lubinets, Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights,

Dr Vilde Hernes, Senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research,

Ms Lise Selnes, Rapporteur,

Dear friends,


Since the beginning of the Russian Federation’s full-scale and appalling war of aggression –

The Council of Europe has done everything that we can to support our member state, Ukraine.

This includes excluding Russia from our Organisation –

Putting in place an Action Plan for Resilience, Recovery and Reconstruction –

And action to ensure accountability, recognising that without justice, there can be no sustainable peace.

Measures to ensure accountability include our work to support the Ukrainian Prosecutor General in the investigation of mass human rights violations –

And the setting up a new Register of Damage that became fully operational earlier this month –

And that has already received more than 1000 claims –

And which is the first and necessary step towards an international compensation mechanism –

In which the Council of Europe is ready to play its role –

Just as we support the work of the Core Group in its discussions on a new international tribunal on the crime of aggression.

But as essential as all of this is, there is another element that is just as important –

Which is the direct result of the Russian Federation’s ongoing aggression –

And which will continue to require our attention as the situation on the ground changes –

Support for the displaced people of Ukraine.

The violence has resulted in millions of Ukrainians –

Especially women and children –

Being uprooted from their homes as they seek out safety.

For millions, this has meant seeking refuge in other Council of Europe member states –

Where a great deal has been done to provide the support that they need.

But there is a great variety in the reception and policies toward this group, and we must also look ahead to what the needs of these displaced people will be both during the current conflict –

And beyond it –

And also what more immediate steps we should encourage our member states to take.

The Parliamentary Assembly has paid deep and commendable attention to this –

And I salute you Chair Oleksii as well as the Rapporteur, Ms Selnes, for the initiative to bring forward a report on this issue.

Let me then provide the context of the action that this Organisation has taken –

And on which we can now build together.

Since 2022, the work of the Special Representative on Migration and Refugees, and I am glad that SRSG David Best is here today, has prioritised the needs of Ukrainians –

Notably, helping those countries that have received the highest numbers of refugees –

Which are most often those bordering Ukraine –

With a clear focus on the needs of those who have arrived.

There have been fact-finding missions by the SRSG to the Slovak Republic, the Czech Republic, Poland, the Republic of Moldova, and also to Romania, and to Hungary and Bulgaria.

As well as concrete follow-up and capacity-building initiatives –

Support in building resilient and long-term migration, asylum and reception systems –

And putting in place the professional psychological medical support care that is so often needed.

Even now, the number of Ukrainians displaced to other European countries is still close to four million –

In addition to the five million internally displaced –

So, we know that more efforts are required and more important work lies ahead.

Addressing the needs of women victims of conflict-related violence is often carried out by Survival relief centres, which are operated throughout Ukraine, with input from lawyers, psychologists and social workers.

The aim is to create such centres in other countries, to support Ukrainian women there as well.

The Czech Republic will soon be the first to do so –

And the Council of Europe may certainly provide training to the professionals who will provide services there.

Our Network of Migration Focal Points has also done good work to help share good practice and helpful solutions on the ground –

With examples such as confidential counselling in Ukrainian and Russian –

Training programmes for labour market integration –

Simpler school enrolment and free school supplies –

As well as online platforms through which citizens can offer various kinds of help.

But the Network has also identified remaining and emerging needs and challenges.

These include overcrowded reception facilities, with a lack of staff and resources dedicated to Ukrainians –

Concerns about human trafficking –

Difficulties in accessing the jobs market and finding employment that matches education –

Integration challenges, including school attendance, mastery of the language and housing –

And often one sees a need for better mental health provision.

So, overall we are facing a challenge to find further ways of helping governments rise to the real needs.

We have also tried to have a particular focus on children – and seek ways of how to help them.

I very much welcome the new international coalition for the return of Ukrainian children, co-chaired by Canada and Ukraine, as one of the 10 points in President Zelenskyy’s Peace Plan.

And the Council of Europe was pleased to participate in the important meeting last week, opened by Commissioner Lubinets –

Where he reported that 38 children have returned since the last meeting in February.

May there be many more.

From the Council of Europe’s specific perspective, at our Reykjavík Summit last year, European leaders issued a specific Declaration on the Situation of the Children of Ukraine

To ensure the rights and best interests of war-affected children.

This sets out concrete recommendations to ensure the protection of children in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe.

As a result, we have established a Consultation Group, which has been fully operational since December.

With its first of a kind regional scope, it provides a non-political co-operation platform that co-ordinates action between experts, as well as between states, the European Union and relevant international organisations.

The Group has so far set up three thematic Dialogue Groups on the topics it identified as the most urgent, namely –

Transnational procedures and co-operation –

Guardianship –

And psychological support and trauma-informed care.

The Dialogues Groups will continue to meet later this Spring –

And additional thematic topics may also be discussed –

Including access to education for children of Ukraine in other member states.

So far, discussions have revealed varying practices among member states for schooling of Ukrainian children, but also with different models and innovative approaches –

Such as training Ukrainian teachers both to integrate into the host country’s education system, as well as to help the Ukrainian children remain connected to their identity, language and culture.

This has inspired the Group to undertake a mapping exercise documenting national practices and challenges, to further identify specific needs, and guide member states to better protection of Ukrainian children’s right to education.

The Group also closely follows the reform of the Ukrainian child-care protection system –

Working with others at the national and international level.

And it seeks to provide updates on the progress, challenges and next steps on the complex task of deinstitutionalising the child care system.

This step-by-step approach has already yielded many good results, notably on effective co-ordination between different ministries.

But many issues truly remain –

And the current focus of work has now shifted to co-ordination and capacity building at the regional level to ensure a gradual, safe, and human rights-based transition towards family-based alternative care.

Dear friends,

Amid the need to design strategies in the midst of a war, we must never lose sight of the fact that it is the fate of people that really matters.

We must never lose sight of the pain and suffering that they are exposed to in a war.

The many challenges it involves to leave one’s home and local community – and one’s country!

And we must always try to ensure that we provide support and care to help them with the issues that they face now – as displaced people.

At the same time, we live at a time when we are – thanks to technology and strong political will – better able to share information and learn from one another about how to address some of these situations.

And I very much look forward listening to the main findings in the recent report by the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research.

This work –

“Governance and Policy Changes During Times of High Influxes of Protection Seekers” –

Takes a careful, informed and comparative approach to assessing various governments’ approaches –

And solutions –

Including in the case of displaced Ukrainians.

I believe that we can greatly benefit by taking into account the knowledge of national experts and those who work on these issues on a daily basis.

It will also be vital to hear the views of the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Lubinets –

And we need to work together.

Only this way will we be able to help the Ukrainian people – the displaced people of Ukraine – and especially the Ukrainian children in these testing times.

That is our challenge and I am sure the Council of Europe’s member states can lead the way.


Thank you for your attention.

​​​​​​​Strasbourg 16 April 2024
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