TEHRAN (Iran News) – With the chilly winter season slowly creeping into Europe, the working and the middle classes of society on the continent are struggling to foot the bills that heat their homes. And with Ukrainian refugees enjoying a wide range of social welfare benefits, including cheaper or free energy, signs are emerging that show dissatisfaction toward Ukrainian refugees.
European households are among victims of American-led actions that led to the military conflict in Ukraine. They are suffering from the ever-increasing inflation driven by the record costs of gas and oil.
In addition to the rent and mortgages for the roof over their heads, Europeans are also paying more for grocery, clothing, education, health and many other services. This would explain why protests have erupted across the continent in opposition to the U.S.-led NATO military alliance that triggered the devastating crisis in Eastern Europe.
But frustration is also growing that Ukrainian refugees are receiving financial help, free accommodation and many other benefits while ordinary Europeans must pay more.
For example, according to the British government, Ukrainian refugees can access Universal Credit (cash handouts) and jobs support immediately. They are also eligible for Housing Benefit, Pension Credit, Personal Independence Payment, Child Disability Living Allowance and an Allowance for carers, and Attendance Allowance. Contributions-based Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseeker’s Allowance, free translation services are also available.
The hypocrisy of course is that the wars on Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – led by the U.S., the UK and EU countries – triggered a flood of refugees who were entitled to little or zero services. They were barred food and accommodation to the extent that many of the refugees complained the situation was better in war zones at home. Ukrainian refugees can expect to receive upwards of €400 per month of cash handouts whereas Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees complained of receiving some €30 per month in financial assistance.
The growing social resilience towards Ukrainian immigrants among the middle class of European societies can be reflected in Germany where the country’s opposition leader Friedrich Merz recently accused Ukrainian refugees of taking advantage of the social welfare system by seeking protection in the country.
“What we’re seeing is welfare tourism on the part of these refugees to Germany, back to Ukraine, to Germany, back to Ukraine,” Merz, the leader of the center-right Christian Democrats, told Bild TV in an interview, adding that “a large number” of the more than 1.1 million Ukrainian refugees registered in Germany were milking the state. “We have a problem here that’s getting worse.”
Merz pointed out that it was “unfair” for Berlin to pay for the heat in the homes of Ukrainian refugees while at the same time many working-class Germans simply cannot afford their energy bills. “It is unfair and the population is right to consider it unfair,” he said.
Germans are becoming more and more concerned about the impact of the Ukraine war on their country’s economy, in particular, the skyrocketing prices of gas. The Covid crisis and the West’s sanctions on the Russian energy sector means the price of oil and gas has in some European countries more than doubled, if not tripled.
Merz’s comments are a shift with his previous comments that backed the government’s support for Ukrainian refugees. His party, the Christian Democratic Union, has seen a growing lead in the polls.
Many municipalities in Germany have reportedly become completely overwhelmed with the accommodation and care for refugees from Ukraine, which hosts around one million. Two-thirds of these refugees are housed in private accommodation or have rented their own apartments, making it a heavy burden.
The cost of railway tickets for instance have also seen incredible hikes in some European countries. That has been met with the utmost anger of commuters. This is while train operators across Europe have been offering free rail transport to Ukrainians. Passengers with a Ukrainian passport or ID card are exempt from rail ticket charges in Poland, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, France, Belgium, and Denmark.
After Russia, Poland is widely believed to host the most Ukrainian refugees, but the prolonging of the war with the fluid supply of Western weapons has taken a heavy toll on Warsaw. Poles say they no longer want to support Ukrainian refugees for free. Authorities who had helped the refugees free of charge by providing them with accommodation are now increasingly refusing such help.
Polish media have cited human rights ombudsman Marcin Vincek as warning that many refugees could end up homeless. Poles cannot continue to help because of the costs. Recently, their financial situation has often worsened due to high inflation and rising prices, as well as a significant increase in the cost of maintaining an apartment or residential building.
Since the outbreak of violence at the end of February, around seven million Ukrainians have arrived in Poland, of which 1.7 million are still residing there.
Now reports have emerged that frustration is growing among the Dutch who see Ukrainian refugees heating their homes free of charge while inflation in the Netherlands jumped in September to its highest in decades, driven by skyrocketing energy prices. That’s according to the statistics agency (CBS).
Holland’s consumer prices rose to 17.1% this month after August’s jump to 13.7% and energy prices in the euro zone’s fifth largest economy were 114% higher than in September 2021, while food prices jumped 10.5%.
Mass demonstrations and protests are now taking place in European countries, especially in Germany, France and the Czech Republic, in which people are demanding politicians to withdraw from NATO and end the war in Ukraine. Just days ago, thousands of protesters gathered in central Paris to call for an end to France’s membership of NATO.
Last month, an estimated 70,000 people demonstrated in the Czech capital Prague against their government, calling on the ruling coalition to do more to control soaring energy prices and voicing strong opposition to the European Union and NATO, while chanting slogans in support of Russia.
Protests are also growing against the shipments of arms to the warzones. They call for resumption of peace talks which were held temporarily in March between Russian and Ukrainian delegations. However, Western governments do not appear to be interested in ending this conflict, despite the massive toll it is taking on the public.
Experts say this will backfire against the position of these Western governments as they are beginning to lose power one by one with voters angry at the record inflation levels.
At the end of the day, Ukrainians and ethnic Russians have suffered the human costs of the war and the damage to their homes and infrastructure. However, as the war drags out, the mood is changing in Europe from one of sympathy towards Ukrainian refugees to what is turning out to be growing annoyance.
There is little the Europeans can afford in terms of living costs. The number of people falling into poverty is rising dramatically and the war in Ukraine is raging on.
As the European middle-class see Ukrainian refugees enjoying the benefits that they are deprived of, there is fear that anti-refugee sentiment emerge across the continent, and as history has shown the far right political parties use the issue for political gains.