UN Refugee Chief Filippo Grandi discusses the mass exodus of Ukrainians fleeing war

The war has driven millions from their homes in Ukraine. More than 4.5 million have left their nation for eastern Europe and beyond, and a further 7 million are displaced within Ukraine. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The war has driven millions of people from their homes in Ukraine. More than 4.5 million have left their nation for Eastern Europe and beyond, and a further seven-plus million are displaced within Ukraine.

    Helping manage this crisis is the United Nations' high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi. We spoke just a short time ago after he met with top officials today at the White House.

    Filippo Grandi, thank you very much for joining us.

    Before I ask you about your meetings at the White House, let me ask you to give us an overall sense of the refugee crisis right now as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine?

    Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Well, you know that this has been the fastest growing refugee crisis in European history since the Second World War. We are at 4.5 million refugees, without mentioning, of course, the more than seven million that are refugees inside Ukraine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what do you expect is next, I mean, based on the people you are talking to?

  • Filippo Grandi:

    Well, this is exactly what I have been discussing also today here in the National Security Council and meeting the secretary of state tomorrow.

    I think the prevalent analysis of the experts is that the war has moved eastwards. But what I fear, as a humanitarian, is a protracted conflict that may be perhaps lower intensity and more localized, but will continue to cause untold suffering to millions of people, and may cause further displacement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What is needed to take care of these refugees, Mr. Grandi? How many of them do you think can homes, temporary or permanent, be found? For them? And how many are you seriously worried — I know you're worried about all of them, but give us a sense of how many of them do you believe can be taken care of?

  • Filippo Grandi:

    Well, Europe has done a remarkable job, has established what is called technically temporary protection.

    This is a quick protection regime for all of them. This has allowed Ukrainians in Europe to spread across the continent, and they usually go where they have communities that can take care of them, their own communities, Ukrainian communities. But, clearly, if this wave continues, if more people come out of Ukraine, it will be more and more difficult.

    So we will have to step up regular assistance program and maybe more organized burden-sharing mechanism. But we're not yet there. If I may say one more thing, where I'm really worried and where I think we must put a lot of the emphasis right now is inside Ukraine, to this — for the displaced people, for all those millions who need to stabilize the situation there and ensure, when they can, that they can go back to where they came from.

    That's the priority right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So what does that mean in terms of what's needed? Is it money that is needed to go to the Ukrainian authorities? Is it assistance of some other kind?

  • Filippo Grandi:

    Well, we work very closely with the Ukrainian authorities. When I say we, meaning not just we UNHCR, but all the humanitarian organizations, because they lead the response, clearly, in their own country.

    And money is very important, because one of the most effective ways to assist people — and this is refugees, displaced people, everybody need — is to give them cash handouts. In all these countries, certainly in the E.U. countries, but also in Ukraine, you can buy goods in the market still. So that's the most effective and dignified way to help them.

    The other big, big area of need is, of course, from our perspective, what we would call accommodation or shelter, both for people that are outside their homes and need to have some form of accommodation — so we're helping, for example, the Ukrainian government fix big empty buildings, public buildings — but also for people that may wish to return to their homes in areas that have been liberated and areas where reconstruction will eventually happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is the United States right now, the Biden administration, doing all that you believe it can do to support these refugees?

  • Filippo Grandi:

    I think so.

    And the response of the administration, but may I add, Judy, the response of civil society, has been amazing. You know that UNHCR alone — and we are one of the many players here, but — although a big one in terms of refugee response.

    We have mobilized more than $800 million. There's been an unprecedented outpouring of solidarity that has been very tangible, very important.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And let me ask you, Mr. Grandi, about one other area of the world where we're concerned about a humanitarian crisis, and that's in Afghanistan.

    We know that, since the U.S. pullout last summer, there's been a — the crisis has only grown worse. Can you give us an update on where things stand right now?

  • Filippo Grandi:

    Well, in Afghanistan, because of the difficult political situation and the impossibility, for now, for any donor to support the Taliban regime directly, everything has been channeled through humanitarian activities.

    And there's been a very considerable effort, especially before the winter. And I was — I visited Afghanistan twice after the Taliban took over in September and just recently. And I observed that, although the crisis is still looming and very acute, the indicators of hunger are very bad, we have avoided through this massive humanitarian effort the worst.

    We need to continue this massive humanitarian response to keep the country stable. It works, but it requires a big, sustained effort.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you see that continuing?

  • Filippo Grandi:

    I hope so.

    And I think that your question somehow implies that, and thanks for giving me the opportunity. It's important not to forget all the other crises, even as we are rightly focusing massively on Ukraine.

    And this is — I was in New York last week. I met all the African ambassadors to the United Nations. They're very worried that this big effort to respond to the crisis in Ukraine distracts the international community from solidarity with African countries that also are hit by very, very severe humanitarian crises.

    So, let's adopt that solidarity for everybody in need.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So good to be reminded of that.

    The United Nations high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, thank you very much.

  • Filippo Grandi:

    Thanks for inviting me here. Much appreciated.

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