No Pet Left Behind: Is There A Case For Animal Refugees?

No Pet Left Behind: Is There A Case For Animal Refugees?
The world has made headway into animal welfare, from a utilitarian approach in the past to a more ethical approach, backed by scientific evidence which considers animals as sentient beings, i.e. living beings capable of evaluating and feeling emotions in reference to their environment.  However, there are still several situations where balancing human rights with animal rights has produced negative consequences for animals.

One such case is that of Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine, which has forced humans to abandon their companion animals in order to seek safe refugee, as per their rights under refugee and EU laws, which only apply to humans.

With several protections available in EU animal law, one of the world’s leaders in animal welfare, can a case for animal refugees be made?


Legally speaking, as animals cannot represent themselves in courts, they need of a guardian who is responsible for taking care of the animal. In the EU, as per Article 13 of the Treaty on Functioning of Europe (TFEU), animals are guaranteed the status of sentient beings.

Article 13 of the TFEU reads:

“[T]he Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals."

This means that a member state or the EU, as well as the animal’s legal guardian, must make decisions based on the animal’s welfare. Animal welfare, a widely misunderstood concept, actually means taking care of an animal’s physical, species-specific needs, the elimination of negative emotions such as fear, stress, or pain and, the introduction of positive emotions, such as providing a safe home, so that an animal’s life can be truly satisfactory. The EU has additional protections for animals, listed as five freedoms:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst

  2. Freedom from discomfort

  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease

  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour

  5. Freedom from fear and distress

With several protections available in EU animal law, one of the world’s leaders in animal welfare, can a case for animal refugees be made? If the pet owner is forced to flee a country, as several thousands are from Ukraine, why can’t they flee with their companion animal, who is owed rights not just from its owner, but also the EU, as per Article 13 of TFEU? If the animal is left behind, their death is guaranteed, either through malnourishment or simply by becoming a victim of Russian fire. Thus, shouldn’t an animal also be provided with protection alongside their owner, as a refugee?

Legally or historically, a case for animal refugees has never been made, perhaps due to several reasons including a lack of ethic and scientific evidence, or capitalism.  However, today there is  irrefutable scientific evidence that animals are sentient. The world is shifting into a new age of human rights and ethics. Isn’t it time for us to provide basic protection from persecution to our furry friends?

In order to tackle this issue, PETA and several animal welfare organisations  in Ukraine have launched campaigns to offer free vaccinations, microchipping, veterinary help and emergency veterinary care for animals. On the legal end, as per the EU’s 2013 regulation on non-commercial movement of animals, animals are typically not allowed to travel with refugees because of border health restrictions on moving animals between countries.  Vaccination results for rabies, which take several weeks to prepare, cannot be conducted during the current Ukraine crisis, so many animals cannot cross into safer countries. While this is the case, the EU has strongly advised member states, in the current state of emergency, to cut red tape for Ukrainian citizens fleeing from war to safety in the EU to be allowed to travel with their pet animals.

As a result, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania and Latvia have relaxed their entrance requirements and have allowed pets of Ukrainian refugees to enter without documentation, microchips or vaccination certificates. Outside of the EU, India has also relaxed its animal entrance laws as one-time measure by allowing stranded Indians to evacuate with their pets.


Altamush Saeed is an LLM candidate in Environmental and Animal Law at the Lewis and Clark Law School