The EU has made it easier for pets traveling with Ukrainian refugees to enter the EU
A man with his dog in one of the three refugee camps created at MoldExpo exhibition center, in Chisinau, Moldova. [EPA-EFE/DORU]
To offer refugees one less thing to worry about, the European Commission has urged member states to eliminate red tape for Ukrainian citizens fleeing the violence to safety in the EU with their pets.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has sparked a humanitarian catastrophe at the EU's borders, with at least 150,000 people fleeing to Eastern European countries (UNHCR).
Many people fleeing are leaving their houses and personal belongings behind, but many are bringing their pets with them. According to a 2013 law on the non-commercial movement of pets, the travel criteria for entering EU territory with pets are fairly severe.
An identifying paper or pet passport must be provided, together with information on anti-rabies vaccination and any other preventive health measures for diseases or infections other than rabies.
Pets entering the EU from a third country must be marked, and dogs, cats, and ferrets must have passed a rabies antibody titration test that meets the 2013 regulation's validity requirements.
The European Veterinary Federation called on the EU to modify these entry criteria so that refugees can bring their pets with them on Friday (25 February).
Some EU nations, including Poland and Slovakia, have chosen to exclude dogs from the travel requirements in the reception centers for Ukrainian migrants that have been set up at the borders.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the migrants are "welcome to bring their dogs with them" as he announced the opening of the national borders to all Ukrainians.
Bernard Van Goethem, the head of crisis preparedness in food, animals and plants at the Commission's DG Sante, clarified the position with the EU's entry requirements for pets in a letter to EU ambassadors and national chief veterinary officers acquired by EURACTIV.
To minimize any complications with refugees arriving from Ukraine with their dogs, cats, or other pet animals, the EU official suggested streamlining the process for non-commercial transfer of pet animals into EU territory.
He referred to Article 32 of the 2013 legislation, which allows for a deviation from the customary travel requirements in unusual circumstances.
Member states may design permission arrangements that would apply to pets traveling with refugees and authorize their admission without a prior individual permit application, Van Goethem wrote in the note.
According to a Commission official, this message will allow member states to alert their border employees, ensuring knowledge and avoiding issues.
We would also appreciate it if you could tell the other member states of the steps taken, Van Goethem continued, endorsing Poland and Slovakia's approach thus far.
Hopefully, this means Ukrainian refugees will have one less item to worry about in these dark and difficult times, tweeted the Commission's health service, DG SANTE.
NGOs and civil society groups applauded the Commission's proposal, claiming that it may set a humanitarian precedent that could be duplicated around the world in comparable wartime situations.
People should not have to risk their own safety in order to prevent their animals from being abandoned, said Ruud Tombrock, executive director of Humane Society International's European branch (HSI).