In search of peace

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2014/08/14 • Politics

Where are refugees from Donbas and Crimea heading and what help do they need?

After Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of warfare in the east of the country, the Ukrainian government is facing yet another massive problem. The state must help internally displaced people (IDPs) from Donbas, in other words: refugees. Ukraine has not seen war in recent history and it has never faced similar challenges [as an independent nation].

But several former Soviet republics do have experience in solving these problems. For example, according to the CIA there are at least 34,900 internal refugees living in Russia, mostly from Chechnya and North Ossetia. A conflict in June 2010 between Kyrgyzstan nationals and the Uzbek minority led to 172,000 people fleeing South Kyrgyzstan. The scale of the problem was especially large in Georgia and Azerbaijan. After the Karabakh war, Azerbaijan registered about 600,000 IDPs – 6.2% of the total population of the country. About 5% of Georgians left their homes after the wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The average Ukrainian refugee

Compared with conflicts in the Caucasus, the situation in Ukraine has some significant differences. First, the scale is much smaller. At least for now. During the period in question, the total number of refugees from Crimea has remained stable at approximately 10,000 people. The number of migrants from Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts) grew exponentially during June and July 2014. As of today, the number is now around 60,000 people. The rapid increase documented on June 26 can be explained by the length of the ATO at the time (12 days, with the previous average being 4-5 days). All this time, the number of new refugees from Crimea was practically zero.

Another distinctive feature of the displaced Ukrainians is their hope to return home. The majority of IDPs in post-Soviet states are considered permanent – they are too afraid to return. In Ukraine, a similar situation can only be observed among Crimean refugees.

A large number of the displaced people from the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are most likely planning to return home when the war is over and the infrastructure has been restored. More than half of the refugees from the country’s east are seeking shelter in neighboring oblasts. This number grew significantly in July (up to 75%), when military action intensified. Nevertheless, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ report claims that, as of July 21, about 15,000 of the 24,000 refugees registered in Kharkiv had already returned to Sloviansk. It is noteworthy that there were almost no additional refugees from Crimea in June and July.

If we study the number of IDPs arriving in the Kherson oblast (bordering the Crimean peninsula but located relatively far from the ATO zone), it becomes obvious that apart from July 8, when 400 internal refugees were registered, the number of internally displaced people from Crimea did not grow. The total number of refugees from the East to Kherson grew throughout the entire period and reached 700 people. This number is much higher in regions bordering the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

The majority of permanent refugees choose the capital city as their new place of residence. This is not surprising. The quality of life is better in Kyiv than in any other area of Ukraine. Nonetheless, the cost of living and the necessary amount of social payments in the capital are also higher. This puts additional pressure on the state and city budgets.

At the moment, the flow of refugees from Crimea to Kyiv is relatively small. However, about 30% of migrants from the peninsula have registered in the capital region. Kyiv’s attractiveness for internal refugees can be compared to the popularity of the Georgian and Azerbaijan capitals. For example, in 2008 about 95,000 of 250,000 internally displaced people moved to Tbilisi. After the Karabakh war, about 216,000 of 600,000 IDPs moved to Baku. Thus, about one-third of internal refugees go to the capitals of their countries.

Below is the number of migrants that went to Volyn oblast – the farthest away from both conflict zones. This region has no big cities (with a population of over 500,000 people). As is the case with Kherson oblast, we do not see a significant influx of refugees from Crimea. Their number is about the same (approximately 200 people). Volyn’s low popularity among refugees from Donbas and Crimea may be explained by the large distance from the conflict zones.

There are some demographic differences when comparing the displaced people from the East and Crimea. First, the ratio of employment age women is higher for Donbas refugees (38%) than those from Crimea (26%). One explanation might be that, in the east, able-bodied men are probably taking part in combat after having joined one side of the conflict. Or they remained in the danger zone to take care of their property. Second, the number of children among the forced migrants is also higher among refugees from the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts – 63% compared to 56% from Crimea.

Both groups of refugees also have common features. The share of employable people constitutes about half of both Donbas and Crimean refugees. This data should be regarded with caution: the sample is too small and there is little information about the displaced people.

Care for the victims

IDPs from the East have distinct differences from those leaving Crimea. The displaced people from Donbas have the status of temporary refugees who left their place of residence due to danger. Migrants from Crimea are considered permanent refugees. Despite this, both groups require support in the short-term.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees thinks that priority should be given to assistance with food, clothing, access to social payments and pensions, bank accounts, medical services, and educational institutions (kindergartens, schools, and universities). The registration of new residences has became another problem for refugees. Passport officers demand the cancellation of their registration at the previous place of residence. This is obviously problematic in combat zones.

However, the Ukrainian government, with the support of international organizations and volunteers, is doing everything in its power within a limited budget. Among the measures taken is the law “on ensuring the rights and freedoms of citizens and the legislative systems in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine.” It focuses on refugees from Crimea. The document outlines the process of accessing social payments, education, and healthcare. The law meets international standards.

There are several more initiatives aiming to increase the efficiency of state aid for forced migrants. First is increased transparency in the registration process. The official number of displaced people in Ukraine is probably significantly underestimated. A simplified procedure for registration would help IDPs gain access to necessary resources faster. Plus, it will become easier for the global community to coordinate its efforts with the Ukrainian government.

Second, refugees could be involved in the process of planning their return to employment and a possible return home. This will allow the creation of employment opportunities for them. Besides, civil workers from among the IDPs may be more knowledgeable about the needs and requirements of displaced people.

In addition to government aid, refugees also need media support. Today the Ukrainian and Russian media frequently report conflicting information. These reports, and also the discussions they spark on social networks, can lead to the emergence of many stereotypes. Here are some which have already been noted:

  • Refugees from Donbas and pro-Russian citizens are “brainwashed” by Russian media.
  • Crime rates in the region increase with the arrival of displaced people.
  • Refugees are lazy and are counting on free passes.
  • Gratitude for any assistance should not be expected of them.
  • The state and volunteers help refugees while locals get nothing.
  • Migrants from the East and Crimea are given free accommodation, unlike the locals.
  • The influx of refugees will raise demand/prices for real estate.
  • The national unemployment rate is growing because of the temporary IDPs.

The refugees themselves may also have prejudices against Ukrainian society:

  • Locals consider the refugees to be at the lowest social level.
  • Forced migrants may be unfairly accused of stealing and alcoholism.
  • Local officials are corrupt, but reporting them will result in being kicked out.
  • Local governments steal part of the aid intended for IDPs

Changing these stereotypes requires a powerful social advertisement campaign and social support for the refugees. Additionally, the matter of their employment is an essential condition for the elimination of the aforementioned stereotypes. For the refugees themselves, it is a great opportunity to thank the army of volunteers for their humanitarian aid.

Employment also increases the value of forced migrants within the local community. Therefore, the government should not only assist in providing the refugees with food and shelter, but also pay attention to creating permanent jobs locations with IDPs. This is particularly essential for refugees from Crimea. Also, an additional source of employment could be the restoration of Donbas’ ruined infrastructure.

Source: Forbes

Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina, edited by Elizabeth Martin

 

 

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