They do exist: mapping statelessness in two pilot regions in Ukraine

Ostap Tymchiy, Migration expert at The Right to Protection (in partnership with HIAS)
/ 5 mins read

Ukraine is most likely a host country to one of the largest populations of stateless people in Europe. Most likely, because nobody knows the exact number of stateless people living in Ukraine. The data from the last all-Ukrainian Census collected in 2001 is out of date. Since then the annexation of Crimea and the armed conflict in the East of Ukraine have put many additional people at risk of statelessness. Ukraine’s obligations and duties under the 1954 and 1961 UN Conventions on statelessness, which have been ratified in 2013, remain to be fulfilled in practice.  

The scale of the statelessness population remains unclear and is most likely significantly underestimated by the government. At the same time necessary steps to accurately evaluate the issue are continually delayed. The high cost of another census is the main reason why it has been postponed multiple times, most recently until 2020. Moreover pilot initiatives included in the Action Plan on the realization of National Human Rights Strategy of Ukraine which would identify stateless persons in six regions were not completed. Planned for 2016 the initiative was never undertaken due to the government’s position to start such identification only after the introduction of a statelessness determination procedure. Many however say it would be useful to have the information on the scale and the profile of statelessness population before the government begins the drafting of a statelessness determination procedure. Using the collected information would help design a law which could more accurately match the real needs of its beneficiaries. 

To fill this gap non-governmental organisations have taken a more proactive approach on the issue. In July, The Right to Protection (R2P) with financial support from UNHCR completed its research on mapping statelessness in Kyiv and Kharkiv regions. The main aim of this project was to identify the stateless population (including those at risk of statelessness) in two pilot areas, to examine its demographic characteristics, protection and social needs. In addition, the research included a component looking at possible ways to reach stateless individuals and how to best provide them with legal assistance.

Research methodology consisted of desk research, review of available quantitative data and information requested from authorities, a survey and in-person interviews with stateless individuals and those at risk of statelessness. The survey work was outsourced to GFK Ukraine - an organization with considerable experience in working with hard-to-reach groups.

Main findings

In total 2105 persons were included in the survey and information on 452 stateless persons was collected through interviews. Based on the collected data the lowest estimated number of stateless people living in Kyiv region was placed at 2575, with an estimated 1793 stateless living in Kharkiv region. The largest proportions of stateless individuals identified were among the homeless (55% in Kyiv and 34% in Kharkiv) and Roma (30% in Kyiv region and 10% in Kharkiv region). 1% of internally displaced persons in Kyiv and 2% in Kharkiv were identified as stateless.

Stateless people were found to be largely marginalized and reluctant to contact authorities (significant number of stateless persons have been in prison at some point in the past). Due to their irregular status, many of respondents had been subjected to legal sanctions and some of them were placed in immigration detention. Majority of stateless individuals are destitute, lacking funds to buy the most essential things such as food.

The estimate didn’t include some key target groups such as asylum seekers and prisoners due to the lack of official statistics and sufficient quantitative data. However, even the minimal estimates of the stateless population made by the researchers confirm that the regions have a sizable population of individuals without a nationality.

Other findings include:

Lack of passport meant that stateless people:

  • were denied access to medical assistance;
  • lacked access to employment opportunities;
  • were barred from receiving any state-funded social assistance or pension;
  • experienced problems renting accommodation;
  • had problems enrolling their children in a nursery or a school (specifically relevant for stateless Roma);
  • were at risking of being arrested and blackmailed by the police;

The most common obstacles in receiving/renewing a passport indicated by the respondents:

  • lack of information on the relevant procedures;
  • lack of funds to pay the fees;
  • necessity to travel to another locality in order to complete relevant administrative procedures;
  • lack of relevant documents (ie. birth certificates);
  • impossibility to obtain a place of residence registration;

However, it is important to note that among the various categories of those surveyed between 50% to 75% never tried to apply for documents. Direct support from a social workers who would accompany them to respective organizations was named by the majority of respondents as the most useful way of assistance in acquiring documentation.

Based on the information collected, the Government should do the following to address the issue:

  • Сollect and record information on the scale of statelessness in Ukraine and assess the risk of statelessness among particularly vulnerable populations;
  • Introduce a statelessness determination procedure accessible to all without delay. The procedure should disregard the legality of the individual’s stay on the territory;
  • Consider the possibility to (temporary) exempt stateless individuals from paying the fees associated with the identification and documentation procedure;
  • Launch a long-term awareness raising public campaign aimed at the stateless population. It is key that the target groups receive information through direct counseling, because many don’t have access to Internet or other electronic outlets;
  • Provision of legal aid and interpretation throughout the course of the identification process. 

R2P along with other UNHCR’s Implementing Partners in Ukraine continue their work on providing legal assistance to stateless persons and advocating for their rights.

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