Refugees are not welcome in Ukraine

Maksym Petrov, Ph.D.

 

Today, the topic of refugees is one of the most urgent in the world and includes a large set of issues: humanitarian aid, medical service, quotas for refugees’ allocation, funds for housing, xenophobia, racism, problems with documentation, employment, educational needs, adaptation of refugees to a new social environment, etc.

Certainly, each of the states solves these problems at its own discretion and builds migration policy, based on available economic resources, geopolitical circumstances, priorities of domestic and foreign policy and other important factors. However, the common feature in this aspect is that significant number of countries in the world understands that the best way out of the situation is the integration of refugees into the society.

At the same time, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recommends to take the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugeesand its 1967 Protocol as primary documents that define the essence of the integration of refugees into the new society.

So, the refugees, lawfully residing on the territory of the state, should have the same legal status regarding primary education as citizens. The same condition must be provided in the case of social security, rights to self-employment, housing, post-graduate education etc. Freedom of religion and religious education of children, protection of copyright and industrial property, access to the courts also should be provided to refugees in the same way, as provided for citizens of the country.

Conclusion of the Executive Committee of UNHCR No. 104 is interesting from the point of view of the formation of landmarks in the process of integration. According to thedocument states are urged to promote the integration of refugees, including facilitation of their naturalization.

In 2006UNHCR identified 6 thematic indicators of integration: demographiccharacteristics of refugee groups; (official) language assistance and abilities; access to secure and affordable housing; employment and training; perception by community and overall feelings of settlement.

On May 2016, the Council of Europe issued an Additional Document on Integration, in which, in particular the topics of reunification of the family, permanent residence, language learning courses and integration, anti-discrimination laws and their impact on integrationareconsidered. These documents are not the only ones which determine the processes of adaptation of refugees, but they are basic.

It has long been scientifically proven, that if the state spends its resourceson this activity, gets only benefits from the entry of foreigners into the new society. Refugees represent an extra workforce, a possibility to attract foreign investments, a way to diversify the cultural development of citizens and many other positive aspects.

Analysis of the information space allows us to conclude that to the integration of refugees is given special attentionin the world. International organizations in the field of migration (UNHCR, IOM and others) conduct regular monitoring and asses the state policy, give some recommendations for its improvement. At the regional level, even competition element between countries is used. Thus, the European Commission has developed the Integration Policy for Migrants Index (Sweden was leader for allfive years of the rating — 2010—2014). Unfortunately, Ukraine was not included in the list of 38 countries.

Development of national strategies, plans, concepts or other types of documents, which determine the state's behavior towards refugees and contribute to the formation of the necessary model of behavior from the side of societyis the fairly widespread world practice.

Ukraine isn’tan exception.In 2012Action Plan on integration of refugees and persons in need of complementary protection into the Ukrainian society for the period until 2020 was adopted.UNHCR took an active part in the document development process, providing 63 comments on the text, most of which were not taken into account. Among the most important recommendations we note the revision of the document on a regular basis, inclusion of NGOs in the list of executors of the document’sprovisions, recognition of documents on working qualifications of refugees, school classes for refugee childrento improve knowledge, access to the status of unemployed.

An analysis of the provisions of the plan shows that the responsible authorities executed this process formally, transferring responsibilityfor fulfillment / non-fulfillment of the plan to colleagues from other bodies of authority. In addition, events that are conducted for one purpose are used for another purpose. We have made a request to the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine to get the document (in electronic format) concerning the methodology of providing assistance to refugees. The Ministry of Social Policy answered that theState Migration Service (SMS) hadn’t send the proposals on the issue. Obviously, this situation did not upset neither the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, to which all authorities report, nor SMS, which had to report, nor the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine, which was the main collector of information on this issue.

In context of receiving psychosocial support by refugees, the answer was that there are staff positions of psychologists at the Temporary accommodation points for refugees (TAPR) in Zakarpattya region, Odessa region and Yagotyn (Kyiv region). They provide assistance to residents of these institutions through psychological counseling.  However, these conditions completely do not meet the needs of refugees. First, psychosocial assistance is necessary not only to those who live in TAPR,. Secondly, due to the complexity of the process of adaptation to the new environment, this kind of assistance should become a mandatory procedure of the integration of any category of migrants in Ukraine.

On our opinion therewas ignoredthe point of Planon the development of the integration into the Ukrainian societyprogram for persons benefiting a decision about the execution of documents to address the issue for recognition as refugee status. The situation is the following: in order to develop such programs SMS studied international experience on the integration of individuals who applied for protection. In the majority of European countries integration measures are carried out only with regard to those persons who received international protection. This was the argument to stop the development of such an important mechanism in Ukraine. However, several aspects are not taken into account here:

  • if the person has received international protection, it does not mean that he or she does not need government assistance to get into Ukrainian society;
  • if the study of European countries experience indicates the absence of certain mechanisms, it is not necessary to automatically refuse to developown way to solve a problem, although it is heavier way.

In our opinion, issuewith the greatest lack of attention is the formation of a tolerant attitude towards refugees. The Action Plan on integration of refugees and persons in need of complementary protection into the Ukrainian society for the period until 2020 does not touch directly measures to protect from discrimination on refugees and persons in need of additional protection. Similarly it does not guarantee equal treatment of these persons during the procedure of obtaining citizenship. Taking into account the complexity of this problem not only in Ukraine, but also in the whole world, we may say that holding only 3 thematic events by local authorities in Kyiv and Kharkiv in 2017 is scanty and does not meet modern needs. However, such a small number of events could be explained by lack of information in the SMS.

Meanwhile another feature, which negatively characterizes the Action Plan on integration of refugees and persons in need of complementary protection into the Ukrainian society for the period until 2020is that like other typical government documents, it is oriented on process, not the result. In support of this thesis, the words «to provide», «to adopt», « to consider» are met through the document. The Plan does not contain specific goals with a clear end result. In addition indicators / criteria for the integration of foreigners into society are absent.

All these factors in complex transferred the Action Plan on integration of refugees and persons in need of complementary protection into the Ukrainian society for the period until 2020 into a document without a specific purpose. Due to inaccurate and incomplete information it is executed formally. It seems, that refugees are not desirable in Ukraine and the authorities only fulfill this plan because they must and are not interested in integrating migrants into Ukrainian society.

The catastrophe of the situation is understood by the authorities. The Migration Policy Strategy until 2025, adopted in 2017, already has Goal No. 13, which relates to the integration of refugees. We note two important fundamentally new provisions in the document. The first is about the need to implement the Action Plan on integration of refugees and persons in need of complementary protection into the Ukrainian society for the period until 2020(however, this will substantially change nothing, as far as the Plan will be in force for only 3 years). In the second passage authors of the document for the first time pay attention to the need of a long-term integration solution for refugees. It is a totally new approach for Ukraine andrepresents one of the key characteristics of a successful European migration policy.

We suggest to have a look at what circumstances determine the current situation of refugees in Ukraine and conduct the process of their integration. In 1990, we joined the Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, which has statements on the protection of theinternational armed conflict victims (Protocol I), in 2002 we joined the Convention relating to the Status of Refugeesand the New York Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, in 2006 we joined the GenevaConvention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 12 August 1949, in 2013 we joined the Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, etc.

However, unfortunately, the ratification of extremely important international documents is not a guarantee of rights protection. Formally, Ukraine fulfilled all the requirements by developing the necessary legislation, but the implementation of new provisions remains at an extremely low level. Partly, the reason is that the Ukrainian authorities are acting using the principle of «obligation», which is coerciveto some extent, while progressive democracies are pro-active and use the principle of «interest».

As of January 2017, 3302 refugees were registered in Ukraine. During 10 months of 2017, Migration Servicereceived 638 new applications, but this is not so much if to comparewith other countries. The status of a refugee or a person in need of additional protection was received by 72 persons.

Despite the huge influx of refugees and migrants through the Mediterranean and Balkan routes, there is no evidence of a significant increase in the number of new arrivals in Ukraine. Moreover, after 4 years with a stable number of new arrivals in 2016, the number of new asylum seekers has decreased by more than half, from 1,433 new applicants in 2015 to 656 in 2016. The part of those receiving protection has decreased in 2016. to 14%, comparing to 22% in 2015 and 37% in 2014.

One of the first problems foreigners face is the length of the procedure for granting refugee status in Ukraine — from 6 months to 18 years. To a large extent, it depends on the effectiveness of studying the application file: most applicants do not speak Ukrainian or Russian, and migrant workers do not speak English. Interpretation services cannot be paid by either party. It turns out that the asylum seeker is not able to explain why he is in danger in his country of origin.

There is another one problem –national legislation does not guarantee providing all social needs of asylum seekerswhile their application for refugee statusis considering.

In 2017, UNHCR assessed the needs of refugees in Ukraine. The study showed that handing of ID documents to the State Migration Service causes problems because of the constant need to certify their identity in order to receive services or to take part in economic activity. The document certifying that the person applied for refugee status in Ukraine, is not a document certifying a person. It means that asylum seekers do not have access to basic rights such as birth registration or train ticket purchases.

Many participants noted the existence of xenophobia in the society. At the same time, protection provided by the authorities in fact is absent: they cannot receive protection or help as foreigners, and therefore decide not to report on persecution or cases of violence.

Participants of the survey noted several times the presence of corruption and discrimination at schools, both from staff and from students.

Young people face difficulties in counseling and access to higher education through a limited choice: technical or vocational schools with a limited number of specialtiesare only available.

A special problem is learning of the state language. The procedure for obtaining a service is imperfect, sometimes has corruption risks. Very often an educational institution where Ukrainian is taught as a foreign language is situated too far from the place of residence of potential students. It makes them inaccessibleautomatically. Lack of language proficiency leads to isolation from the local community, restricts awareness of their rights and the ability to benefit services.

The issue of employment is extremely problematic in Ukraine, especially for those who have exhausted the state procedure for granting protection. To survive, these people agree to getunofficial, low-paid work with frequent pay-delays. It increases the vulnerability of such persons to exploitation. However, procedures that legalize their status and allow official economic activity are bureaucratic and information is hard to get.

Regarding refugees, another study conducted in Ukraine showed that 70% of respondents did not know about the existence of mobile fair job vacancies and mobile employment centers for refugees.

Difficulties also arise when receiving unemployment benefits for refugees and foreigners permanently residing in Ukraine. The size of social benefits depends on the length of the insurance period. In cases when refugees and foreigners permanently residing in Ukraine do not pay insurance premiums, they cannot receive unemployment benefits.

The issue of self-sufficiency could be resolved by implementing the provisions of the National Human Rights Strategy. The documentprescribesto develop legislative changes that will give such people the right to receive long-term loans for the purchase or reconstruction of housing, the launch or development of their own business or training. However, the Strategy does not mention the refugees, the document refers to «certain categories of population», which automatically will result in the exclusion of this category of population from the beneficiaries. By the way, in December 2017, the results of monitoring the implementation of the National Strategy on Human Rights were presented. The survey showed that over the 2 years of the Strategy's implementation only 2 of 8 tasks related to the rights of refugees, were accomplished.

Housing problems. This issue has also been actively developed, but due to Russia's military aggression and the emergence of more than 1.5 million IDPs, all funding programs have been discontinued. As a result, there are actually only 2 temporary accommodationpoints in Ukraine for refugees: in Zakarpattya region and in Odessa region. 350 peoplecan stay there. At the samethe request is about 1500. The official site of the migration service mentions another accommodation pointin Kyiv region, but it does not work.

Sometimes the behaviour of the authorities make barriers for the integration of refugees into Ukrainian society become. Human rights activists argue that there are xenophobic statements on refugees at very different levels: starting from the person who’s activity was bounded with the Committee onHuman Rights of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to ordinary members of the SMS, who are prejudiced in communicating with protection seekers. M. Boutkevich, Coordinator of the project «Without Borders» states that granting asylum and refugee status is always a political decision.

The Head of the Advocacy center of UHHRU B. Zakharov also says about Security Service of Ukraine’s (SSU) cooperation with security services of the refugees’ countries of origin. It is noticeable when the SSU participates in the deportation of those people who were required to be given out be the countries from which they escaped.

At the moment, the EU is trying to overcome the migration crisis. Ukraine seeks to become a full member of the European community, which means that we must be ready to work on overcoming this problem, dividing the pressure of the refugee quota and anticipating possible solutions to the whole complex of related phenomena, using the experience of other countries. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to change the national legislationsufficiently, to ensure the strict observance of human rights and to promote the change of attitude towards foreigners, both among ordinary citizens and among the civil servants responsible for making decisions in the field of migration. Today, unfortunately, Ukraine is not yet ready for such transformations, and refugees are not welcome.

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