Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice, however, authorities failed to provide effective protection for refugees and asylum seekers.
On July 8, the parliament adopted a law on refugees and persons in need of complementary or temporary protection. The law contains provisions designed to improve and streamline procedures for seeking asylum. In particular, it provides that asylum seekers be issued documents which identify them as asylum seekers lawfully present in Ukraine; recognizes minor children as refugees simultaneously with their adult parents; and grants permanent residence immediately after recognizing individuals as refugees, which facilitates their integration in Ukrainian society. The UNHCR noted that the law was not completely in line with international standards, in particular because the definition of “persons of concern” entitled to complementary protection was narrower than in the EU Qualification Directive. Under this law only those who actively apply for asylum are considered “persons of concern” and entitled to complementary protection. Those who do not apply for asylum are not considered “persons of concern,” even though they may be in need of international assistance.
In December 2010 the president abolished the State Committee for Nationalities and Religions (SCNR) and established the State Migration Service (SMS) as part of wide-ranging administrative reforms to reduce the size of government. Coordinated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, this central executive body is responsible for migration management. As of October, regional offices of the SCNR were being shut down; however, the SMS had yet to set up its regional offices. These changes, together with the implementation of the new law on refugees, resulted in processing delays for those seeking refugee and asylee status.
During the first nine months of the year, the SMS received 523 asylum claims. At year’s end 170 asylum decisions had been issued. Furthermore, according to the UNHCR, the reshuffling of ministerial positions and responsibilities led to a complete halt in all asylum processing for at least four months.
Administrative courts responsible for reviewing appeals of denied asylum applications were overwhelmed by a backlog of cases, leading the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeals to postpone its review of deportation appeals until 2012.
There are no legal provisions for voluntary return. However, the local office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in cooperation with the State Border Guards Service (SBGS) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, continued to operate a program on assisted voluntary return to help stranded migrants and failed asylum seekers to return to their countries of origin. Five local NGOs in the Mukachevo, Chernihiv, Odesa, Kharkiv, and Volyn oblasts participated in the voluntary return program.
Nonrefoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to a country where there was reason to believe their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. However, there were some exceptions. During the year the UNHCR recorded three incidents involving the expulsion of 13 individual asylum seekers or refugees, compared with six individuals in 2010. Incidents included cases in which individuals were denied access to the territory of Ukraine.
In March Russian environmental activist Denis Solopov sought political asylum in the country. While he obtained refugee status from the UNHCR, Ukrainian authorities denied his asylum application. Because Solopov was on the international wanted list, authorities placed him under arrest pending review of Russia’s extradition request. According to media reports, Solopov was released in July and went to the Netherlands, where he was granted political asylum.
Refugee Abuse: On March 16, Amnesty International reported mistreatment of and attempts to deport eight Afghan asylum seekers detained by the SBGS in Boryspil Airport. UNHCR spokesman Maksym Butkevych stated the situation showed that “the asylum system in Ukraine does not work.”
In December 2010 HRW reported that asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in the country “risk abusive treatment and arbitrary detention.” Although torture was “not systemic,” the testimonies of refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers indicated that it did sporadically occur. While conditions in some migration detention facilities had improved, detainees alleged that inhuman or degrading treatment, including beatings, kicking, and food deprivation occurred. “All of these abuses took place in a climate of impunity, with victims fearful of reporting the abuse and perpetrators not held to account,” the report stated.
Regulations initiated by the SBGS in 2009 require foreign nationals transiting the country to Western Europe and stateless persons to posses no less than “70 subsistence levels,” or 12,620 hryvnia, ($1,580) to sustain their stay in the country. In September 2010 the UNHCR stated that this change “should not affect access to the asylum procedure or undermine the nonrefoulement principle.”
Human rights groups noted that the current law on refugees does not expressly provide protection for war refugees, victims of indiscriminate violence, or failed asylum seekers who could face the threat of torture or loss of life or freedom if deported.
According to the UNHCR and local human rights groups, the complicated and burdensome registration system often left asylum seekers without documents during the protracted review of their cases and the appeal process. This left them vulnerable to frequent police stops, detention, and fines. Refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from Africa and Asia, were at times victims of violent, racially motivated attacks. Asylum seekers in detention centers were sometimes unable to apply for refugee status within prescribed time limits and had limited access to legal and other assistance. The problem was further complicated by the lack of access to qualified interpreters to complete registration documents. In addition, some migration service centers closed as part of the administrative reform, limiting the access of asylum seekers to services.
During the year the UNHCR and local NGOs worked with approximately 138 unaccompanied children seeking asylum. The majority were not registered with asylum authorities and were unable to access appropriate services and care, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
The country remained a destination and transit country for migrants. According to the SBGS, 8,100 irregular migrants were identified during the year, 59 fewer than in 2010. Of that number, approximately 6,300 were not allowed into the country, and 1,800 were apprehended when illegally crossing the border. According to the SBGS, 34 Chechens and 1,493 Uzbeks were also apprehended in the first nine months of the year.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, during the year 282 detained irregular migrants were held in two new facilities in Chernihiv and Volyn oblasts, compared with 350 in 2010. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that 205 refugees were housed in two facilities in the Trans-Carpathia and Odesa oblasts. The combined capacity of these two facilities was 270.
Durable Solutions: Refugees who have resided in the country for three years may apply for citizenship.