26 June, 2014

Refugees in Ukraine in 2014

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Category: Discrimination, Refugees, Ukraine
Community Manager
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Press release of the Conference on Refugees in Ukraine in  2014: Problems and Challenges .

Each year on June 20th the World Refugee Day is celebrated worldwide. This has become a tradition since 2001, when this date was officially approved by the UN General Assembly. However, in the recent history of Ukraine the problems of those forced to leave their homes and flee to safer places have never been as urgent as in 2014. These issues were the central subject of the press conference “Refugees in Ukraine: problems and challenges” held on June 20th in the news agency “Interfax-Ukraine” in Kyiv. The event, organized by the Coalition for Combating Discrimination in Ukraine and the Centre for Information on Human Rights, with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation  and the European Commission, was attended by representatives of civil society organizations and initiatives, including the  representative of the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Refugees and forced migrants in general, are  not a new phenomenon for Ukraine. Many Ukrainian political and cultural figures, particularly during the twentieth century, could save their lives only owing to the asylum provided to them in other countries. This has occurred also after Ukraine gained independence. At the same time, each year, according to the data of Ukrainian and international organizations, about 1500-2000 people, citizens of other countries or stateless persons, ask for refuge in  Ukraine. They claim that they are afraid of persecution in their homeland, or run away from the  war and violence. However, until now the fate of most of them was unhappy. Despite the fact that Ukraine is a state party of the UN Convention of 1951 relating to   the Status of Refugees and the Protocol to this Convention of 1967, and undertook obligation to provide refuge, the vast majority of those who asked for the protection in Ukrainian lands, didn’t  get it. As of today, among all the residents of our country less than 3,000 people have refugee status granted by the State. Others were denied  this status.

According to Maksym Butkevych, co-coordinator of the No Borders  Project , Social Action Centre NGO  , the recent events in Ukraine gave hope that the various institutions, including the institution of asylum, will be set in their proper place, and Ukraine will finally meet its obligations in this field. Although we see that the state practices concerning asylum seekers, unfortunately, have not   undergone systemic changes. We will continue to insist on making necessary  major reforms in this area, and  we are willing to take part in this process. Civil society organizations and  initiatives have specific suggestions on how to reform the asylum system in Ukraine in order to make of it the tool of protection and not the shameful thing it has been till now.

Unfortunately, the word “refugee” recently came out in the  daily circulation primarily not because of those who are defined as “refugees” by the law, but because of the residents of Ukraine, who are forced to move from the occupied or dangerous territories to safer regions (and who would be more correctly defined as “forced migrants” or “internally displaced persons”).

“Recently in Ukraine the unprecedented events have taken place such as  foreign intervention, occupation, terrorism, ATO (Anti-terrorist Operation – trans.). These are not political consequences which are important in the first place, but social ones, leading to a large number of internally displaced persons and violations of human rights. Such Ukrainian citizens are called forced migrants, emphasizing the reasons for their movement, as they are forced to leave their homes to save their lives and the lives of loved ones, and avoid violence and politically motivated persecution for their beliefs”, says Olha Skrypnyk, the Head of the Centre for Civic Education “Almenda”.

According to her, the regulatory framework is not sufficient and should be adapted to the new severe reality. For instance, Olha argues that the Law of Ukraine “On protection of rights and freedoms of citizens and legal regime of the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine” is declarative and does not address issues of  the protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Today the State must act urgently and develop an appropriate legislation to ensure the rights of IDPs. Their main problems  such as  housing, registration, employment, protection of property and so on, still remain almost unaddressed.

At the same time, even from a purely practical point of view, Ukrainian authorities and citizens should be prepared to solve    increasingly complex problems of greater number of migrants.  The co-founder of the civil initiative “East SOS” Yuliia Krasilnykova warns, “The number of migrants is increasing, but not to the critical extent yet. It’s worth noting that many people are still not aware of the danger and move only within the Donbass to safer  areas, where there are no combat actions yet. However, if violence  escalates in those areas as well, Ukraine will be not ready to face  such a number of migrants. Currently, none of the fields for migrants from the East is regulated. Whatever people try to do, in any field they will face difficulties and obstacles. At this stage the State is unable to alleviate the plight of the people who find themselves  in stressful situations, temporarily or permanently lost their home, but only creates bureaucratic hindrances.”

On Refugee Day, 20 June 2014, civil society organizations and  initiatives emphasize: coping with a new tragic page of the recent Ukrainian history is not only the responsibility of  citizens, but also a test on the capability of  Ukrainian   society to take care of those who need protection and shelter, about  their rights, to make  their further living possible  in a free country that  truly respects the rights and freedoms of all and can provide refuge to everyone who needs it.






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