United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Ukraine, 1 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8bb10.html [accessed 29 July 2016]
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At the end of 1997, nearly 4,900 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection were in Ukraine. These included 2,442 recognized refugees, 271 asylum seekers whose cases were pending a decision at year's end, and 2,158 individuals granted "war refugee" status under a special decree. During 1997, 2,716 persons applied for asylum in Ukraine, the majority, some 62 percent (1,682 persons), coming from Afghanistan. Significant numbers of asylum seekers also came from Angola (188), Congo-Brazzaville (111), and Azerbaijan (99) during the year. Of the 2,493 persons whose cases were decided during 1997, some 1,267 individuals (51 percent) were recognized as refugees, and 1,226 persons (49 percent) were denied. The largest number granted refugee status came from Afghanistan (947), accounting for 75 percent of all approvals for the year. Many of the Afghans granted asylum were associated with Afghanistan's ousted Najibullah regime and have been in Ukraine for several years. Modest numbers of Congolese (71), Azeris (37), Angolans (35), Rwandans (22), and Sudanese (16) were also granted refugee status during 1997. Congolese had the highest approval rate (89 percent), followed by Tajiks (63 percent), and Afghans (61 percent). Ukraine nevertheless remained primarily a country of transit during 1997, with many who enter preferring to move on to countries farther west. As such, the actual number of refugees and asylum seekers in Ukraine is estimated to be somewhat lower than data on registrations suggests. Asylum Procedure Although Ukraine has yet to accede to the UN Refugee Convention, it began conducting refugee status determinations in mid-1996. Until then, it had not implemented its 1993 law on refugees. By the end of 1997, 20 of Ukraine's 27 regional migration services were conducting status determinations. The migration office of the city of Kiev has been the most active, granting status to more than half of all recognized refugees in Ukraine. Two other offices, one in Odessa and one that covers the region around Kiev, have also granted status to significant numbers of refugees. Despite this noteworthy progress, significant gaps in Ukraine's ability to receive and protect refugees remained during 1997. Access to the refugee status determination procedure was, at times, problematic, particularly in western Ukraine, where border police arrested and detained many undocumented migrants, including would-be asylum seekers. Legislation passed in the spring of 1997 to crack down on unauthorized migration in some cases made it more difficult for undocumented asylum seekers to register their claims. The application of the safe third country provision of the 1993 law on refugees also prevented would-be asylum seekers from applying for refugee status. Ukrainian authorities applied the safe third country law to asylum seekers on a group basis, not individually determining each asylum seeker's ability to apply for refugee status and receive effective protection in transit countries deemed to be "safe." For example, the authorities denied Afghan asylum seekers a merits hearing on the basis of their transit through Russia and denied other non European asylum seekers because they transited through Turkey or Central Asian countries. Because Ukraine has not been able to return many asylum seekers to the countries they traveled through before entering Ukraine, many remained in the country illegally, with no possibility of regularizing their status. Ukrainian law moreover only recognizes the principle of nonrefoulement as applying to refugees recognized in Ukraine. Therefore, refugees recognized by other countries and asylum seekers denied a merits hearing on purely procedural grounds, such as the safe third country law, may be returned against their will to countries where they claim to fear persecution. The lack of an adequate legal means to protect people fleeing war who do not meet the refugee definition in the UN Refugee Convention has also been problematic. Nor was protection fully ensured for recognized refugees in 1997. Bureaucratic obstacles hindered some refugees from registering with the authorities to obtain residence permits. Preferring to avoid taxes on income received from rent, landlords often refused to give refugees the proof-of-residence documents required to receive a residence permit. Without a residence permit, recognized refugees are subject to fines and police harassment, a problem that reportedly increased in the spring of 1997 with the enactment of legislation intended to crack down on unauthorized migration. Crimean Peninsula In December 1997, the Ukrainian government reported that more than 250,000 Crimean Tatars, along with some 12,000 Bulgarians, Armenians, Greeks, and Germans, deported during the Stalin era had returned to the Crimea. Of these, some 48 percent had not found housing and 77 percent were unemployed. During a September 1997 visit by High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata, UNHCR reported that some 70,000 returning Tatars were either stateless or at risk of becoming stateless. Until they receive Ukrainian citizenship, they do not have access to higher education and government jobs. Many Crimean Tatar returnees live in abject poverty on the fringes of society, UNHCR's representative in Ukraine reported. UNHCR provides accommodation for 4,000 particularly vulnerable Tatar returnees. In April 1997, the Ukrainian government adopted new legislation on citizenship, which significantly improved the naturalization process for formerly deported people who have recently returned to Ukraine. During High Commissioner Ogata's September visit, the Ukrainian government reiterated its intention to simplify the citizenship process. UNHCR also announced in September that it was in the process of setting up citizenship processing centers across the Crimea.