No mechanisms in place for dealing with refugees from the Crimea
In an interview given to Ukrainsky Tyzhden, Maxim Butkevych, Coordinator of the No Borders Project, speaks of the situation following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea; on those who have already left and those who may in future; Ukrainians’ hospitality and more
The first wave of displaced people began before the so-called referendum of March 16 and then intensified after it. It involved the most vulnerable groups: Crimean Tatars; the families of Ukrainian soldiers; people who feel connected with the Ukrainian community.
He believes it possible that there will be a second wave of migrants who understand that they are not prepared to live under occupation. This could be because of a deterioration in socio-economic conditions; in the situation with respect to crime; or an increase in pressure from both formal and information armed gangs and occupation forces. Some predictions speak of tens of thousands of people, and Ukraine needs to be prepared.
On the number of displaced people
Butkevych notes that the number of people applying to be resettled is higher now than a week or two ago. According to the most recent statistics, over 3 thousand people have registered in various regions and / or approached NGOs. This is clearly not the full figure since it doesn’t include people who have gone to stay with relatives or have not informed anybody of their intentions.
Only some regional administrations, Lviv for example, are actually registering people. There is no general state registration at all. One of the tasks of a newly formed coordination council, which the No Borders Project is part of, will be to gather as much information as possible about internally displaced people.
The problems they face
They first of all confront logistical problems due to the lack of registration; a job; places in kindergartens and schools. They can’t get medical check-ups and businesspeople don’t know where to pay tax. This is a totally new situation for Ukraine, unlike in Moldova or Georgia.
There are no mechanisms, and these need to be established, preferably at legislative level. Butkevych points out that some of the problems are beyond the scope of NGOs, and politicians are in no hurry to resolve them.
The Ministry of Social Policy has started up a help line, however their information suggests that the people who ring it get general information about how to register in a new place according to normal procedure. This is obviously not what is needed in the present exceptional circumstances.
The civic sector can find people who can put people up for a week, or even 6 months, but it can’t ensure registration, employment, etc. Butkevych believes that there should be somebody in the Cabinet of Ministers coordinating the efforts of different departments. This is not even a question of money, but of swift and competent work.
Butkevych notes that in the second half of the 1990s, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a special decree on temporary status for Georgian refugees from Abkhazia. Even before the current law on refugee status and ratification of the UN Convention on refugees, this made it possible for people to get registration and live. At least they had some kind of formal status. There were several thousand who have since settled in Ukraine, with many receiving Ukrainian citizenship.
Butkevych believes that the most simple solution now would be to take that experience into account and introduce special status for people who have moved from the Crimea.
The draft law “on ensuring the rights and freedoms of re-settlers”
The first version of the draft bill, tabled by Serhiy Sobolyev, aroused a huge amount of criticism from lawyers, NGOs, and from people displaced themselves. Butkevych notes that despite the name of the draft bill, it chiefly concentrated on restrictions and had taken into consideration parts of Georgian legislation which did not apply to the Ukrainian situation. He points out that over 200 amendments have been made to the bill.
The number of civic initiatives to help people who have moved, Butkevych says, show how important Crimean people are for the people of Ukraine. There are at least 10 initiatives working on a voluntary basis around the clock, with call centres helping to match people in need of accommodation with those offering a place to stay. It is indicative that up till a week ago there were around 30 people offering accommodation for every 10 who needed it. Supply and demand have now equalled out, and there are also ever more difficult situations. For example, there may be families with 8-12 people which is not unusual for Crimean Tatar households. A flat with only one bedroom is obviously not sufficient.
The offers of accommodation are coming from very many regions, however in terms of demand, Kyiv and the Kyiv oblast are top because of the greater likelihood of being able to find work. The Lviv oblast is second in terms of popularity. There are some offers from the east of Ukraine, but people fleeing the Crimea are frightened to go to the Luhansk or Donetsk oblasts as they fear ending up in the same situation.
The problem is now getting very serious with people moving not only from the Crimea, but from eastern regions where activists are sending their families to Central or Western Ukraine to avoid them becoming targets.
There are for the moment only isolated cases where people have left the Crimea, but moved outside Ukraine – mainly eastern European countries. The best-known case was when 30 Crimean Tatars sought asylum in Poland. Butkevych stresses that they did not believe that the Ukrainian authorities would persecute them, but rather that Ukraine would prove incapable of helping them.
To or from Russia
The Russian authorities have claimed that large numbers of Ukrainians are fleeing to Russia. Butkevych notes that over the last 2 months they have received far more applications from Russian nationals for refugee status that over the previous year. Some have faced persecution in Russia (over the Bolotnaya Square and other protests); others were seen on Maidan, were on the barricades and were injured. They have received reports that Russia’s security service is engaged in collecting information about those people, and they need particular attention from Ukraine.