At the end of 1998, Ukraine hosted about 8,589 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 5,336 recognized refugees, 205 asylum seekers whose cases were pending a decision at year's end, and 3,048 individuals from Abkhazia, Georgia, granted "war refugee" status under a special decree. Another 7,446 formerly deported persons registered in the Republic of the Crimea were of concern to UNHCR.

The majority of recognized refugees came from Afghanistan (76 percent), while smaller numbers came from Congo-Brazzaville and Congo Kinshasa (4.2 percent), Azerbaijan (3 percent), Angola (1.6 percent), Georgia (1.6 percent), and Tajikistan (1.4 percent). About 3 percent were from Iraq, Iran, and Ethiopia.

During 1998, 1,571 persons applied for asylum in Ukraine, the majority (803) from Afghanistan. Significant numbers of asylum seekers also came from Iraq (106), Azerbaijan (106), Georgia (59), and Sudan (53).

Of the 1,634 individuals whose cases were decided during the year, 719 (44 percent) received refugee status, and 915 (56 percent) were denied. Almost half of those granted refugee status (356) came from Afghanistan – including many long-time residents formerly associated with Afghanistan's ousted Najibullah regime. Modest numbers of Azeris (63), Angolans (32), Congolese (41), Sudanese (60), and Georgians (34) also received refugee status during 1998. Angolans had the highest approval rate (89 percent), followed by Congolese (82 percent), Sudanese (75 percent), Georgians (67 percent), and Afghans (43 percent).

Ukraine remained a country of transit during 1998, with many who entered moving 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 suggest.


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 and benefits as citizens and may naturalize after five years of legal residence in Ukraine. Ukraine's migration services have one month to decide asylum cases. Rejected applicants may appeal migration-service decisions to the State Committee for Nationalities and Migration, provided they register the appeal within one week. By year's end, the Committee – which began hearing appeals in January 1997 – had rejected 721 appeals and granted 33. A total of 38 appealed cases were pending at year's end.

By the end of 1998, 22 of Ukraine's 27 regional migration services were conducting status determinations. Kiev city's migration office was the most active, recognizing 43 percent of Ukraine's refugees (1,424 persons), while the Kiev regional office recognized another 9 percent (303 persons). Significant numbers of persons also received refugee status in Odessa (19 percent), Lviv (4 percent), Kharkiv (4 percent), and Vinnitsia (3.5 percent).

Protection Gaps

Despite noteworthy progress, gaps remained in Ukraine's ability to receive and protect refugees in 1998.

Access to the refugee status determination procedure was problematic, particularly in western Ukraine, where border police arrested and detained undocumented migrants, including would-be asylum seekers. Legislation passed in 1997 to crack down on illegal migration authorized such detention practices and reportedly kept many undocumented asylum seekers from registering their claims. Only six asylum seekers – four Afghans in Zakarpaatska and two Iraqis at the Borispol Airport in the Kiev region – applied for asylum through the border police in 1998.

Other factors limiting access to Ukraine's asylum procedure include: backlogs in asylum processing; the denial of applications based on broad safe third country provisions in the refugee law; understaffing of migration service offices; and a lack of qualified interpreters to facilitate the processing of asylum claims.

These problems reinforce one another, exacerbating procedural protection gaps. To avoid being reprimanded by Ukraine's Public Prosecutor's Office (Procuratura), migration authorities often refuse to accept more applications than they can process in the one-month period stipulated by the law. Asylum seekers, particularly in Kiev, often wait months for their applications to be officially received. In the interim, those without visas or alternative status reside illegally in Ukraine and risk being fined or detained.

Furthermore, a provision in the 1993 law on refugees 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 to receive effective protection in transit countries. As such, protection gaps in safe transit countries, such as the geographical limitation of Turkey's accession to the Refugee Convention and inadequate safeguards against refoulement in Russia's airports, are largely unheeded by Ukraine's migration authorities. During 1998, migration authorities reportedly denied Afghan asylum seekers merits hearings on the basis of their transit through Russia and denied other non European asylum seekers refugee status because they transited through Turkey or Central Asian countries.

Finally, migration authorities apply the principle of nonrefoulement only to refugees recognized under Ukraine's law on refugees. As such, persons recognized as refugees by other countries may be returned against their will to countries where they claim to fear persecution. The law on refugees provides no alternative humanitarian status for rejected asylum seekers.

Ukraine deported 176 persons in 1998. The migration authorities reportedly suspended deportation for some asylum seekers, however, after UNHCR intervened.

Residence Permits

Refugees and asylum seekers in Kiev continued to face bureaucratic obstacles to registering with the authorities to obtain residence permits in 1998.

Under Article 12 of Ukraine's law on refugees, refugees may be assigned to reside in certain regions. In August, Kiev city – which hosts the majority of Ukraine's refugees and thousands of undocumented immigrants – considered implementing Article 12 to assign refugees to non-Kiev regions. In August, while Kiev city considered excluding refugees from living in the city, Kiev Passport and Registration Services reportedly refused to register many refugees. The Ministry of Interior and UNHCR intervened; however, many asylum seekers and refugees were fined or arrested for violating residence requirements.

At year's end, Ukraine had not implemented Article 12, and refugees generally enjoyed freedom of movement and residence within Ukraine. Future implementation of the provision appeared likely however, particularly in Kiev.

Crimean Peninsula

Ukraine struggled throughout 1998 to assist some 260,000 "formerly deported persons," who returned to the Crimea after being exiled to Central Asia by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in the 1940s.

At year's end, some 250,000 Crimean Tatars, along with some 12,000 Bulgarians, Armenians, Greeks, and Germans, had returned to the Crimea. UNHCR reported that nearly 80,000 returning Tatars, some 60,000 from Uzbekistan and 18,000 from other former Soviet republics, were either stateless or at risk of becoming stateless. Many returnees lived in abject poverty on the fringes of society and faced significant barriers to gaining Ukrainian citizenship. Without Ukrainian citizenship, they could not access many social benefits, higher education, or government jobs.

In April 1997 and October 1998, Ukraine adopted legislation to simplify the naturalization process for many formerly deported people returning to Ukraine. A 1997 amendment to the Law on Citizenship waived residence and language requirements for persons able to prove that they, their parents, or grandparents were born on Ukrainian territory. In October, Ukraine simplified the procedure for formerly deported persons from Uzbekistan to renounce their Uzbek citizenship. (Ukraine does not permit dual citizenship, so renunciation is a prerequisite to naturalization.) The citizenship-renunciation provision applied only to Uzbeks, however. The provision excluded nationals of other former Soviet republics, who continued to face high renunciation fees and other obstacles to naturalization.

Throughout 1998, UNHCR set up citizenship processing centers across the Crimea. By year's end, 27 field offices and four mobile teams staffed by two local NGOs were offering citizenship assistance to formerly deported persons in the Crimea. By December 31, 15,273 Crimean Tatars had naturalized. Some 90,700 remained without citizenship.


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