More than three years after the outbreak of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine people who had to flee war (internally displaced persons) still have problems with access to housing, social benefits, and integration into local communities. The same refers to refugees and asylum seekers coming to Ukraine from abroad, said Noel Calhoun, Deputy Representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, presenting UN report at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.
The 2017 participatory assessment involved 167 focus-group discussions organized by UNHCR together with partners across Ukraine, with the support of local authorities, free legal aid centers, civil society and international organizations. The report is based on interviews with IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers and persons at risk of displacement. Among the interviewees, there were persons of various age, sex, and background. The interviews were held in February-March 2017 in Ukraine.
The main concerns of the interviewees relate to discrimination, administrative and bureaucratic obstacles to exercise their rights and access to housing. “Situation of refugees is complicated by a limited temporary accommodation that is available in the country,” noted Noel Calhoun. “This is one of the most expensive problems for the state. We need $20-40 billion to fix that. […] The number of people who received low-interest loans at preferential rates to buy housing will be known by the end of 2018,” says Yusuf Kurkchi, First Deputy Minister for Temporary Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons of Ukraine.
Specific concerns of refugees and asylum seekers relate to xenophobia, challenges in accessing asylum procedures and flaws in the procedure, lack of local integration prospects and uncertainty about the future. IDPs and persons at risk of displacement are concerned about high rents, lack of employment, difficulties accessing state subsidies to offset high utility costs.
The IDPs believe that the reasons for these problems are administrative and procedural barriers, combined with a lack of political will, coordination, and understanding from the local authorities. Many IDPs said they perceive discrimination and concluded that the local authorities do not make sufficient efforts to ensure for them full access to their rights.
According to Yusuf Kurkchi, nearly 1,5 million IDPs found employment in 2017. He added that the Ministry proposed a pilot project to preserve a part of funds provided by international donors to create new workplaces for IDPs. “Lots of IDPs are making huge efforts to integrate. The IOM does research every 3-6 month asking the same questions about employment and poverty. There is some good news – employment rates are slowly creeping up and poverty rates are slowly going down,” added Noel Calhoun.
For persons who obtained status of refugee or are in the process of obtaining the status of refugee it is more difficult to find employment, says Natalia Gurzhiy, head of the Board of the charity foundation “Rokada” (founded in 2003 as an executive partner of UN High Commissioner for Refugees to implement social project for refugees and asylum seekers in Ukraine). “Neither Labor Code nor legislation, in general, protect them,” she explained. Persons in the process of obtaining the status of refugee are not eligible for any social benefits, and the procedure can take years.
Another issue of concern is access to education and medical services, added Noel Calhoun.