Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2017, 12:01 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Ukraine

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Ukraine , 1 June 2003, available at: [accessed 24 November 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 2002, Ukraine hosted about 3,600 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included about 3,000 recognized refugees, 400 asylum seekers with pending cases at year's end, and about 200 asylum seekers who were registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) after being rejected by Ukrainian authorities. These 200 may re-apply under Ukraine's new refugee law – if and when Ukraine begins implementing it. The majority of recognized refugees came from Afghanistan (1,572). Smaller numbers came from Armenia (244), Azerbaijan (232), Russia (228), Congo-Brazzaville (120), Georgia (116), Sudan (67), and Iraq (66).

In addition, approximately 4,000 formerly deported persons were living in refugee-like conditions in the Republic of Crimea at year's end, still unable to complete naturalization procedures. Another 3,000 persons from Abkhazia, Georgia who were granted "war refugee" status were also living in refugee-like circumstances.

The Ukrainian authorities stopped accepting asylum applications in August 2001 and did not start accepting them again until July 2002. As a result of the year-long suspension, only 457 cases were considered during the year. Of these, 294 (64 percent) were not admitted into the procedure on grounds that they missed filing deadlines and 12 (3 percent) were deemed manifestly unfounded. A total of 139 cases (30 percent) were admitted into the procedure, of which only 25 were decided on the merits and only 2 were granted refugee status. This is a 99 percent decrease in the number of refugees recognized (455) in 2001, and a 75 percent drop in the number of applications received in 2000, the last year in which applications were accepted for the full 12 months.

Based on the number of applications submitted in the past, UNHCR estimates that as many as 2,000 asylum seekers might have submitted applications during 2002 if not for the suspension.

Until a new refugee law was passed in mid-2001, recognized refugees in Ukraine were required to re-register to maintain their refugee status every three months. Although 5,176 persons had been recognized as refugees between 1996 and the end of 2002, only 2,966 maintained their status and were still registered with the authorities at year's end.

About 13,400 Ukrainians sought asylum in other industrialized countries during the year, up 25 percent from 2001.

Asylum Law and Procedure

In January, Ukraine ratified the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol after passing a new Law on Refugees in 2001. During 2002, the government's implementation of the Law on Refugees – which replaced a 1993 law – was inadequate and slow. The year-long suspension in registering asylum seekers and adjudicating their claims undermined the country's ability to protect refugees and left hundreds, perhaps thousands, without protection. At year's end, the political, legal, and bureaucratic disarray remained unresolved.

For the seventh time in eight years, the central body in charge of Ukraine's asylum and refugee protection was re-created and re-staffed. This led to another loss of UNHCR-trained staff, long delays in processing, and problems in refugee protection.

In 2000, the Ukrainian government disbanded the State Committee for Nationalities and Migration (SCNM) – the agency responsible for overseeing the implementation of the 1993 Law on Refugees – and replaced it with the State Department for Nationalities and Migration (SDNM) in early 2001. In June 2001, the government enacted a new Law on Refugees, disbanded the SDNM in August, and recreated the SCNM. During 2002, the new SCNM did nothing notable to improve asylum processing, and in practice, appeared to have made the situation for asylum seekers and refugees in the country worse.

As such, Ukraine fell well short of international standards during 2002, despite having enacted a new Law on Refugees that established the preconditions for Ukraine to accede to the Refugee Convention and Protocol.

The new law incorporates the Convention refugee definition and includes a non-refoulement (no forced return of refugees) provision. The new legislation also eliminates the 1993 law's time limit on refugee status. Instead, it makes the duration of status dependent on conditions in the country of origin. The new law also requires the government to issue refugee travel documents and to allow refugees to petition for family members to join them.

The new law provides recognized refugees the same rights as Ukrainian nationals regarding medical care, education, work, choice of residence, and right to move. However, in practice, recognized refugees continued to experience difficulties finding housing and employment during 2002 because of housing and job shortages and problems acquiring residence documents, particularly in Minsk. In addition, refugees may naturalize after three years of continuous residence (as opposed to five years for other foreigners). However, only 25 refugees naturalized in 2002, in part because of lengthy bureaucratic delays – often more than a year.

The new law allows asylum seekers to remain in Ukraine pending exhaustion of appeals, and introduces a safe-third-country provision more consistent with international standards than appeared in the 1993 law.

The 2001 law also introduces restrictive filing deadlines: three working days for persons who arrive illegally and five working days for legal arrivals. Sur place claimants must apply before their initial legal status in the country expires. During 2002, almost two-thirds of asylum applicants were denied admission into the procedure because they missed the strict deadlines.

Regional Migration Service (RMS) offices decide asylum claims in the first instance. At year's end, 21 of 27 regions had functioning RMS systems. However, their performance varied greatly.

Slightly more than 50 percent of the 457 asylum applications were submitted in Kyiv City or Region (230 applications, including 210 to Kyiv City and 20 to Kyiv Region). About 15 percent (70) were submitted in Zakarpatye, and about 10 percent (47) in Odessa. The remaining 25 percent were submitted and processed in Kharkiv (30), Chernivtsy (22), Crimea, and Sevastopol (18), and other regions. No applications were filed only in Cherkassy, Donetsk, Kirovograd, Mykolaiv, Ternopil, and Zaporizhzhya.

The RMS in Kharkiv rejected 97 percent of applications on grounds that they missed the filing deadlines. Kyiv City rejected 92 percent, and Zakarpattye rejected 66 percent on the same grounds. However, rejections in Zakarpattye shrank from 75 percent to 10 percent after UNHCR intervened in November.

By year's end, the Kharkiv RMS rejected its one remaining claim as manifestly unfounded. The RMS in Kyiv City rejected another 5 applications as manifestly unfounded, and had accepted only 11 cases, none of which had been sent to the SCNM by year's end.

In contrast, RMS offices in Odessa and Zakarpattya processed 40 and 24 asylum applications respectively, most of which were sent to the SCNM before the end of the year.

Under the new Law on Refugees, asylum seekers may not be rejected on safe-third-country grounds unless the third countries conduct refugee status determinations consistent with the Refugee Convention and agree to receive the asylum seeker and examine his or her claim. During 2002, no asylum claims were denied only on the basis of the safe-third-country provision.

This new provision is an improvement from the 1993 law's expansive safe-third-country provision, which did not take into account the ability of the third country to take back the asylum seeker and adjudicate his or her claim. In 2001, RMS officials rejected 93 cases exclusively on safe-third-country grounds. Asylum seekers previously rejected on the basis of the 1993 law's safe-third-country provision will have the opportunity for reconsideration of their claims under the new law.

In reaction to the ongoing protection and local integration problems in Ukraine, UNHCR doubled the number of persons referred for resettlement (16) to other countries and the number the agency assisted with voluntary repatriation (34).

Abkhaz (Georgian) Refugees

Based on a 1996 Cabinet of Ministers resolution, Ukraine maintains a temporary protection regime for "war refugees" forced to leave their places of permanent residence in Abkhazia, Georgia. At year's end, 3,021 persons, including several hundred children, were beneficiaries of this status. Some estimates indicate that another 2,000 war-refugees from Abkhazia may continue to reside in Ukraine without registration and status under that decree.

RMS offices may issue war refugee certificates to Georgians with stamps in their national passports, showing that they are from Abkhazia. The renewable certificates are valid for six months. Applicants must also establish that they had well-founded protection reasons for leaving their places of permanent residence (similar to the criteria in the refugee definition) and that they are not evading a criminal proceeding. Persons granted war refugee status are permitted to choose places of residence within Ukraine, apply for temporary work permits, receive government-funded medical care, and enroll their children in school.


Between 1993 and 1999, about 270,000 Crimean Tatars (exiled to Central Asia by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in the 1940s), along with smaller numbers of Bulgarians, Armenians, Greeks, and Germans, returned to the Crimea after facing persecution and conflict in the former Soviet Central Asian republics. Most of the formerly deported people remained stateless until Ukraine adopted legislation in 1998 to simplify the naturalization process, removing a mandatory five-year residence requirement and a language-proficiency requirement. However, the law excluded persons who had not formally renounced other foreign citizenship, including more than 60,000 Tatars from Uzbekistan who could not confirm that they had relinquished their Uzbek citizenship.

Ukraine added a simplified procedure for renouncing Uzbek citizenship to the law in 1999, enabling the majority of Tatars from Uzbekistan to become citizens by the end of 2000. Still, at the beginning of 2001, about 20,000 Tatars remained stateless. On January 18, 2001, Ukraine further amended its citizenship law by allowing stateless persons first to naturalize and then to have one year to perfect the renunciation of foreign citizenship. The new law also removed other remaining procedural barriers to naturalization.

By the end of 2002, more than 260,000 formerly deported persons had acquired Ukrainian citizenship, and the statelessness problem for formerly deported peoples was on its way to being resolved. Another 4,000 persons who had registered after 1999, but had not yet completed citizenship procedures, remained stateless. Officials projected that another 1,800 to 3,600 formerly deported persons, mostly Tatars from Uzbekistan and Georgia, would continue to arrive annually and need to naturalize.


Asylum seekers are detained, some for many months, together with other undocumented migrants in Ministry of Interior and Border Guard detention facilities. Most are overcrowded and do not provide sufficient food and medical care. Throughout 2002, the authorities lacked the resources to return detainees not in need of international protection as well as to identify and release those who were.

Ukrainian border troops apprehended 2,600 migrants without proper documents in 2002, many of who may have been asylum seekers. These included nationals of China (672), India (537), Afghanistan (248), Bangladesh (211), Iraq (189), Vietnam (188), Sri Lanka (123), and Pakistan (120). Another 133 detained migrants originated from various African countries. The majority was not admitted into the asylum procedure. Border troops, however, referred 103 detainees to RMS offices to pursue asylum claims.

Many border guards and law-enforcement authorities are not yet trained to hand over applications and applicants to the RMS. Because detained asylum seekers lack documents that certify the legality of their in Ukraine, asylum seekers are vulnerable to apprehension, detention, administrative penalties, and even refoulement by law enforcement authorities.

The exact number of refugees refouled during the year was not available. However, UNHCR estimates that the number who may have been threatened with refoulement may be as high as 2,200. This estimate includes as many as 1,800 asylum seekers who may have been barred from the process during the first six months of the year because of the lack of processing, and about 400 not admitted into the procedure because they missed the strict filing deadlines.

UNHCR intervened with authorities in several cases to prevent refoulement during the year. In one case in August, UNHCR arranged for Ukraine to re-admit six asylum seekers from Iraq who had been deported to Jordan, where they were threatened with refoulement. Statistics on the number of asylum seekers deported or refouled during the year were not available.

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