Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 October 2017, 16:02 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Ukraine

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Ukraine , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 18 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


At the end of 1999, Ukraine hosted more than 5,800 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 2,697 recognized refugees, 303 asylum seekers with pending cases at year's end, and 2,817 persons from Abkhazia, Georgia, whom Ukraine granted special "war refugee" status. Another 7,446 formerly deported persons registered in the Republic of Crimea were of concern to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The number of recognized refugees residing in Ukraine fell by 50 percent, from 5,336 in 1998 to 2,697 at the end of 1999, reportedly because many did not renew their refugee certificates and reportedly left Ukraine for other countries. At the end of 1999, the majority of recognized refugees came from Afghanistan (1,891 – 70.1 percent), while smaller numbers came from Azerbaijan (119 – 4.4 percent), Congo Brazzaville (111 – 4.1 percent), and Sudan (75 – 2.7 percent).

During 1999, 1,739 persons applied for asylum, an 11 percent increase from the 1,571 who applied in 1998. As in previous years, most came from Afghanistan (897). Significant numbers also came from Russia (240), Azerbaijan (64), and Sudan (48).

Of the 1,598 individuals whose cases were decided during the year, 643 (40 percent) were recognized as refugees, and 955 (60 percent) were denied status. This relatively generous approval rate is somewhat misleading, however, because most of those granted refugee status were in fact the children of recognized refugees who have been living in Ukraine for some years. Children with refugee parents automatically receive refugee status when they become 16 years old. In 1999, more than two-thirds of those granted refugee status came from Afghanistan (444). Modest numbers of Russians (32) and Yugoslavs (30) also received refugee status during the year.

As the decrease in the number of refugees still in the country suggests, Ukraine remained a country of transit during 1999, with many moving on to countries farther west.


Although Ukraine has not signed the UN Refugee Convention, it began implementing its 1993 Law on Refugees in 1996.

Under the law, refugees have similar rights as citizens and may naturalize after five years of legal residence in Ukraine. Ukraine's regional migration services have one month to decide asylum cases. Rejected applicants may appeal migration-service decisions to the Appeals Commission of the State Committee for Nationalities and Migration, provided they do so within one week. Of the 240 appeals filed in 1999, 11 were approved, 164 denied, and 65 remained pending at year's end.

By the end of 1999, all of Ukraine's 27 regional migration services were conducting refugee status determinations, with the Kiev office handling about 60 percent of the applications.

Asylum and Border Control

Despite some progress, significant gaps remained in Ukraine's ability to receive and protect refugees in 1999.

Access to the refugee status determination procedure was difficult, particularly in western Ukraine, where border police arrested and detained undocumented migrants, including would-be asylum seekers. Although most potential asylum seekers view Ukraine as a country of transit on the route to Western Europe, Ukrainian border guards and police have no established procedure for identifying and referring asylum seekers to the asylum process. Border police routinely deny entry to undocumented asylum seekers requesting refugee status, despite an amendment to the Criminal Code that exempts undocumented asylum seekers and stateless persons from penalties for lacking travel documentation.

According to Ukrainian government statistics, the border guards received no asylum requests during 1999. At the same time, border police denied entry to 9,494 foreigners. Government statistics also indicate that border police apprehended 12,174 undocumented migrants between January 1 and November 17, almost two-thirds of the arrests occurring on Ukraine's western borders. More than half of those arrested in western Ukraine were Afghan nationals.

Border police reportedly detained many of those arrested, including some with tuberculosis, in a detention facility in western Ukraine in small, overcrowded, and unsanitary cells.

As a result of tighter border controls, almost all migrants and asylum seekers employ smugglers to cross the border in and out of Ukraine. Heightened surveillance has also increased the risks. In April, two small boats transporting 13 undocumented Afghans and Pakistanis capsized while crossing the Tisza River on the Ukraine Hungarian border, drowning 12 of the 13 passengers. Other migrants and potential asylum seekers met similar fates during the year.

Other Barriers to Asylum

Ukraine impeded access to its refugee status determination procedure in other ways during 1999.

According to the 1993 Law on Refugees, Ukraine considers all 133 countries that have acceded to the UN Refugee Convention or Protocol and countries that have adopted refugee legislation to be "safe third countries" to which asylum seekers may be returned. Migration authorities apply the vast list of safe third countries to asylum seekers on a group basis, rather than individually determining each asylum seeker's ability to apply for refugee status and receive effective protection in transit countries. As a result, Ukraine's migration authorities often do not heed protection gaps in "safe" transit countries – such as Turkey's geographically limited accession to the UN Refugee Convention and inadequate safeguards against refoulement in Russia's airports.

UNHCR reported in 1999 that the safe third country rule resulted in the denial of refugee status to persons clearly in need of international protection. Those unable to return to their countries of transit had no means to regularize their status in Ukraine.

Other factors limiting access to Ukraine's asylum procedure include backlogs in asylum processing, understaffing of migration service offices, and a lack of qualified interpreters. To avoid being reprimanded by Ukraine's Public Prosecutor's Office, migration authorities often refuse to accept more applications than they can process in the one-month period stipulated by law. Although the extensive use of safe third country rules reduced the backlogs of most of the regional migration services in 1999, asylum seekers in Kiev often had to wait one to two months for official acceptance of their applications. In the interim, those without visas or alternative status in 1999 resided illegally in Ukraine and risked being fined or detained.

Residence Permits

Refugees and asylum seekers in Ukraine continued to face bureaucratic obstacles to obtain residence permits in 1999. In most cases, regional passport and registration offices refused to issue residence permits to refugees and asylum seekers without travel documents or with expired passports, viewing refugee and asylum-seeker certificates issued by the regional migration services as insufficient documentation for residence registration.

Unregistered refugees and asylum seekers often fell victim to police harassment, evictions from their apartments, and detention. In October, Kiev police arrested an Angolan refugee, although he showed the police his Ukrainian government refugee certificate. After severely beating him, the police forced him to sign a confession that he had forged the certificate. He was charged and later convicted of "hooliganism."

Most recognized refugees were unemployed in 1999 and often lacked the money to rent apartments and pay for registration fees.

Crimean Peninsula

Ukraine made significant progress in 1999 toward resolving the problem of statelessness for some 270,000 "formerly deported persons" who returned to the Crimea after being exiled to Central Asia by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in the 1940s.

By year's end, about 258,000 Crimean Tatars, along with some 12,000 Bulgarians, Armenians, Greeks, and Germans, had returned to the Crimea.

In 1997 and 1998, Ukraine adopted legislation to simplify the naturalization process for many formerly deported people. By the end of 1999, most had received Ukrainian citizenship, although the situation of some 28,000 formerly deported persons remained unresolved. Of these, about 8,000 were stateless, while some 20,000 were still citizens of other former Soviet states, with which Ukraine had yet to establish a simplified procedure for the transfer of citizenship.

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