4 July 2014

The security situation in Ukraine has, according to UNHCR’s updated guidance, continued to deteriorate, causing the internal displacement of some 54,400 people (42,200 from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in Eastern Ukraine, and 12,200 from Crimea), mostly to the Kyiv and Lviv regions. Given that many internally displaced persons are not registered, UNHCR estimates that the true figure may be ‘considerably higher’.

In addition, according to UNHCR figures, about 14,000 people from Ukraine have sought asylum in neighbouring countries, mainly Russia, since the beginning of 2014.  In addition, Russia and Poland have granted or extended the residence permits of over 94,000 Ukrainians. UNHCR recommends that these residence permits continue to be extended until the situation stabilises.

Given that “the overall situation remains volatile”, UNHCR reasserts their previous March 2014 position that Ukraine should not be designated as a ‘safe country of origin’ – asylum applicants from Ukraine should therefore not be subjected to an accelerated procedure with reduced safeguards.

UNHCR also notes that, while all asylum claims from Ukrainians should be fully considered, “claims for international protection of persons having been involved in recent developments, including, for example, political activists, journalists and human rights defenders may need to be given particular attention”.

For asylum decision-makers considering whether a Ukrainian applicant could be reasonably expected to relocate to another part of Ukraine, UNHCR recalls that the existence of family or community support in the proposed relocation area is a relevant consideration. UNHCR cautions that “for Crimean Tatars and persons originating from the east without family and community links in other parts of Ukraine, such support networks may not be available”.

UNHCR also highlights the challenges faced by internally displaced persons in Ukraine: lack of access to social services or unemployment benefits due to the absence of required documentation; loss of former income and inaccessibility of bank accounts; barriers to obtaining residence registration due to being housed in temporary shelter; lack of employment opportunities in relocation area; temporary shelters being ill-equipped for winter; and an inability to benefit from the use or value of their abandoned property.

Ukraine’s adoption of specific legislation and procedures for persons displaced from Crimea has guaranteed their free movement, access to education and medical care, the restoration of identity cards and the exercise of voting rights. However, UNHCR says that no framework currently exists for displaced persons from the eastern regions troubled by continuing unrest.

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 4 July 2014.
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