Beyond arrivals to Europe: a world of internally displaced people. How does the Ukrainian situation differ from other countries?

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  • 20/02/2017Дата публікації

The number of internally displaced people in the world is almost twice as big as the number of refugees. Yet their condition is seldom considered in media reports. An insight into the numbers behind conflict-related refugees and internally displaced persons.

Martha Puhach (political scientist, Ukraine), Marzia Bona (Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa, Italy), Tobias Neil (Uppsala University, Sweden), Mohammed Aggad (civil society activist working on migration issues, Slovakia).

Yemen: too dangerous for repatriation, not enough for asylum in the EU

The escalation of conflict between the al-Houthis and Yemeni security forces since March 2015, followed by violence arising from the Saudi-led military intervention have quickly turned Yemen in one of the countries with the highest number of internally displaced people across the world.

As of the end of 2014, there were around 334,000 people displaced. By the end of 2015, the figure had increased more than seven-fold to more than 2.5 million (the 10% of the total population in the country). According to most recent data from OCHA, there are 3.2 million displaced people registered in the country.

Indiscriminate warfare that has targeted the population and civilian infrastructure giving rise to a vast protection crisis. Forced displacement and food insecurity hit particularly harsh in a country which is one of the poorest in the Arab world. In fact, the main priority for humanitarian intervention identified by OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) local office is the protection of civilians from military attacks; at the same time, OCHA has warned against the lack of basic survival conditions, with an estimated 14 million people currently affected by food insecurity. According to the same source, about 90 per cent of internally displaced have now been displaced for more than 10 months, including 85 per cent who have been displaced for more than a year.

The latest data provided by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund and the World Food Programme said that, as of February, 10, 2017, the number of food insecure people in Yemen had risen by three million during the past seven months, reaching an estimated 17.1 million people and exceeding two-thirds of the entire population of 27.4 million.

The few refugees from Yemen that make it to Europe are confronted by contradictory rules that place them in an uncertain situation. Yemenis are in fact not considered eligible for the relocation scheme which is accessible for refugees from other nationalities (Iraqi, Syrians and Eritrean).

Europe’s ever changing refugee policy provokes the paradoxical situation in which Yemenis submitting their asylum request in Greece (the main arrival country for refugees from Yemen), are entitled to enter the EU relocation scheme only if their demand was presented before the EU excluded Yemen from the list of the countries included in the abovementioned mechanism.

Waleed al-Shaibani, a 20 years old refugee from Yemen interviewed by Al Jazeera while going through this limbo in Greece, exposes the absurdity of the situation he is confronting: "We went to the IOM (International Organization for Migration) and asked if they can repatriate us, but they said they cannot because it's not safe. "So our country is too dangerous for them to send us back, but not dangerous enough for Europe to accept us."

Trapped within a country surrounded by desert and the ocean, just a small part of Yemenis make to other countries. About 182,000 people have fled Yemen so far, mostly to nearby countries like Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan.

A growing challenge

The number of forcibly displaced persons across the world has reached the unprecedented record of 65.3 million at the end of 2015, a figure equating to the total population of the United Kingdom. This number includes both refugees, people who flee their country, and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), individuals who are forced to abandon their houses but remain within the borders of their own country.

While the refugee crisis has brought unprecedented attention to the perils of those who fled their country leaving everything behind, the fate of internally displaced is often overlooked in media coverage even if, since 1990, the number of conflict-related IDPs significantly outweighed the number of refugees.

In 2015, over 21 million people lived displaced outside their country, defined as refugees according to the Geneva convention. Another 3.5 millions were registered as asylum seekers.

In the same year, the number of IDPs was almost double: 40.8 million people were registered as being forcibly displaced within their own country of origin. This is the highest figure which has ever been recorded by the International Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) - the organization aggregating data on IDPs globally.

According to the International Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) the number of internally displaced people is on the rise across the world for the 5th consecutive year. A phenomenon which is paralleled by the increase in the number of refugees, but which is often overlooked as it does not directly “affect” Europe.

Along with the increase in the total number of IDPs, a significant upward trend has been registered in the number of new internal displacements triggered by armed conflict and violence during each year since 2003: IDMC registered 11 million new IDPs caused by conflict and violence worldwide in 2014 and 8.6 million in 2015. It is as if the entire population of Belgium and Austria had been forced to leave their houses in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

The main reason for the increase in new displacement is the result of the protracted crises in Iraq, South Sudan, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Nigeria. These five countries alone accounted for 60% of new displacement worldwide. Conflict related IDPs are concentrated in the Middle East (4.8 million) and in Sub-Saharan Africa (2.2 million), the very same regions which are indicated as the main origins of refugees moving to Europe.

Specific challenges for internally displaced people

Which are the specific challenges faced by internally displaced people? When do forcibly displaced people decide to leave their country? “The most important factor is of course the level of violence ongoing,” says Martin Rentsch, UNHCR External relations officer in Germany. “Both IDPs and refugees choose to stay as close as possible to their home area as long as the level of violence allows to do so - because many of them have the hope to return.

Referring to refugees, data tell us that between 60 and 90% of them stay in the region where they come from because they have the hope to return.”

Yet, the decision to remain in a country in order to be able to return to a normal life as soon as possible - even when it is heavily affected by violence - is not the only explanatory factor. This decision may not always be adopted in a deliberate manner.

“Another reason why the number of internally displaced people worldwide have increased over the past years - comments Rentsch - is that many of the escape routes are blocked, so people have to stay within their countries because the neighboring countries increasingly close their borders. That is a dangerous development, because it affects the individual right to asylum, the right of those people to seek and find protection somewhere else.”

IDPs and refugees both face a situation of forced displacement which has its root causes in the widespread level of violence, yet there is a protection gap affecting internally displaced compared to refugees. International protection scheme for IDPs are still underdeveloped compared to the mechanisms at work for refugees.

While a definition of the status and rights to which refugees are entitled have been defined back in 1951 with the UN Convention on the situation of refugees - a binding treaty which has been signed by 145 countries in the world - it was only in 2004 that the United nations adopted its Guiding principles on Internal Displacement. Although a UN framework has been developed for IDPs too, it is quite clear that the tools for protecting refugees are much more efficient that for protecting IDPs.

Protection of internally displaced people depends on the consent of the very same governments who are part in a conflict (whose consent and cooperation is a prerequisite for humanitarian actors to be able to provide support needed by IDPs). Considering Syria, the country with the highest number of IDPs (6.6 million people as of August 2016, according to IDMC) providing support in some parts of the country is simply too dangerous for humanitarian organization, determining is dramatic gap in protection.

According to IDMC, countries where new displacement took place in 2014 were among the most economically vulnerable and least able to cope with crisis. When displacement takes place in less economically developed states, they are unlikely to have the resources and capacity to respond to IDPs’ short-term needs, let alone invest in longer-term solutions.

When it comes to the specific forms of protection (granted by UNHCR and other humanitarian actors), what UNHCR does in both cases is very similar, because the needs of forcibly displaced people, most of the times, are quite similar. They come with no belongings, they need to be registered, which is crucial to guarantee access to special services. Then there is the need to identify especially vulnerable people, such as families and children with medical conditions, we try to identify unaccompanied children or children separated from their families, so people with specific protection needs. In both cases then we try to distribute humanitarian aid or we transfer them to camps or reception facilities. The Ukrainian people know that from their own experience.

Ukraine: problems of the internally displaced were resolved "quite moderately"

Due to the conflict in Donbas and annexation of the Crimea starting from the 2014 Ukraine was submitted into the list of the leading countries as to the number of the forcibly displaced people. According to the data provided by IDMC since December 2015, Ukraine has occupied the 8th place in the world’s list right after South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen.

Ministry of the Social Politics of Ukraine reports about 1 785 740 cases of internal displacement.

However, it should be stated that the data provided by the Ministry might be slightly inflated. Andriy Solodko, an expert at “CEDOS” (former Centre for Society Research), think tank with an expertise in the migration processes, indicates that a part of the refugees are known as “social tourists”, which means they are residents on the occupied territory, yet they also can be registered on a new place in order to receive pension as well as social benefits from Ukraine: “We have been conducting a research as for the changes in the infrastructure’s loading. It has increased significantly. And the closer you proceed to the border, the more refugees, especially, retirees you’re able to identify.

Approximately 80% of retirees have been stated in cities like Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. Besides, while comparing the settling of the larger cities, for instance, Kharkiv, it is evident that on the south side of the city there have been registered more refugees, than on the north. It was just easier to get to that place and as a result to obtain the registration faster”.

According to data provided by the Interagency coordination headquarters on social security IDPs, for the past two years as for the 3rd of February 2017 1million 65 thousands 727 people were forced to leave their homes and to eventually become known as “internally displaced”: 1 million 42 thousand 904 people moved from the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and 22 353 moved from the Crimea. These calculations were based on the number of the registered people who had already submitted their application for help.

For the whole course, two relocation waves happened in Ukraine and the wave from the Crimea is thought to be treated by the society more friendly. Originally, people who had arrived from the Crimea were always thought to be political refugees and Ukrainian patriots. These people were not provided with any special support by the government, yet local communities took this kind of responsibilities on themselves. The majority of refugees have either gone to Kyiv or Lviv. The overwhelming majority has eventually chosen Kyiv.
Refugees from Donbas were supported by the Government, although without the volunteers and international organizations that took an active part in this process the situation would be much worst.

In the midst of conflict Ministry of Emergency Situations launched the temporary reception where refugees were received and the raw data was collected. Checkpoints were located just behind the front line on the road that led from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Local authorities have been conducting work for the reception of refugees on their place likewise. Far more frequently volunteers and representatives of international organizations were working on the points for refugees. Also, the State had launched a website with the housing register available to refugee that has worked for a year starting from the summer of 2014 and was shut down. The data had to be provided by the local governments. In general, different motels or houses in the villages were kept in the record. Nevertheless, the site was eventually abandoned due to the lack of new fillings.

In addition, the question regarding the cost of housing has appeared. Whether the housing provided was free or not depended on the particular government agency. Targeted assistance provided to refugees was called "Assistance for the housing and communal services payment" (which is slightly more than 1000 UAH per month). Quite often it was forcibly taken away for the rent issues.

So far the issue of housing is the sorest subject for all refugees. "The best option for us would probably be preferential loans for housing provided by the state. We do not ask for anything free of charge, but we do need some help with housing, "- indicates Marina Derevyanko, a refugee from Sverdlovsk, Luhansk region.

The State kept aloof from the crisis when the peak situation happened. That is why volunteers actually had to perform the functions of the state regarding a lot of issues. Volunteers managed the workflow very well, especially worth mentioning are such areas as legal aid (Vostok.SOS, Krym.SOS), the primary reception (for e.g., organization "Station.Kharkiv" carried out the initial reception of refugees), and employment ("Free people employment centre" which has already employed more people than the employment Service).

Now is the time to integrate refugees. So far in the aforementioned direction, the work has only been conducted in the field of education, in which the state generally dealt best with the settlement of the problems of refugees.

All refugees are settled in schools and kindergarten. Besides, those in kindergartens located in the larger cities were granted with privileges and even quotas. As to the universities successful and unsuccessful might be indicated:

"From the occupied territories to the territory of Ukraine were transported whole universities. From all of the universities only Donetsk National University was able to somewhat restore its institutional capacity since it has received a grant for the reconstruction from the European Commission. All others are unable to work like they were used to before. They have no money, and no institutional capacity and they are located somewhere in hostels.

But the worst thing is the so-called enslaving of students. After the universities were transferred, and all students who are refugees were “enslaved” as they were granted with privileges and incentives for scholarships, so the universities practically gained an infinite source of students and their vitality till the end of the conflict. After all, now we have such a system – wherever the students go, the financing goes there, "- explains Andrew Solodko. And once more we have sacrificed the quality of education.

International organizations are considered being another worth mentioning factor.

As it was explained earlier, most of the times international organizations have to contact the State in order to provide necessary help for internally displaced people.

Initially, Ukraine had a problem with charitable assistance in a non-cash configuration because it was taxed. Finally, all taxation regarding charitable assistance was cancelled; moreover, this standard was included in “The law on the rights and freedoms of internally displaced people”.

Regarding financial assistance to refugees, it should be stated that it goes through the State (Ministry of Economic Development and Trade) or through NGOs. For example, when the NGO receives a grant and then distributes Micro-grants for refugees. And it has been conducted quite often. But these Micro-grants would be more significant to have with the State’s side as well, for instance, such as concessional loans for housing or for the start of an own business.

Overall, the international assistance provided for the needs of the displaced people can be calculated as 600 million euro in two years: 200 million in the 2015 year and 400 million in the 2016 year. The main problem which might be applied to donations in Ukraine is what exactly for the money is provided.

The state does not fund the production of a special policy on refugees.

First of all, it is necessary to analyze the data acquired over these two years. While nobody has dealt with the data professionally, the hope for a complete State policy on internally displaced persons is quite phantasmal.
To sum up, Ukraine has done the most basic ways to resolve the situation with refugees.

Andrew Solodko provides this assessment: "The refugees had moved, they don’t live in tents in the street, they have more or less received ensuring of their social and political rights and they are being integrated into the local community.What has not the government done yet – it has not provided the political rights for the people to vote in the election and it has not developed State program. In fact, regarding medium and long term problems it has dissociated from all of them. This means that the permanently displaced people have to deal with their problems all by themselves. In general, examining the current experience of Ukraine from the global perspective, the situation can’t be evaluated neither as “excellent”, nor as just “satisfactory” as it is somewhere in the middle – as “quite moderately or good enough”.

This article was produced during #ddjcamp, a data journalism training organized by European Youth Press - Network of Young Media Makers

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