| Overview |
UNHCR works with a wide variety of people of concern in Eastern Europe, ranging from asylumseekers within mixed-migration flows, refugees and returnees to internally displaced people (IDPs) and stateless people. Compared to other parts of the world, Eastern Europe receives a relatively low number of asylum-seekers. However, frequent reorganizations of State bodies responsible for border management, migration and asylum and the priority given to political and other considerations can leave national asylum systems either dysfunctional or lagging far behind international norms.
Other major challenges for UNHCR in the subregion are ensuring access to territory and asylum procedures for all people of concern and preventing refoulement, deportation or extradition. Recognition rates in the subregion are low, and some countries are increasingly resorting to complementary forms of protection instead of recognition based on 1951 Convention status.
Also troubling are limited access to protection for some nationalities and poor integration opportunities, leading many asylum-seekers in Eastern Europe to make repeated attempts to reach other countries perceived to be more liberal. Resettlement continues to be the only solution for many people of concern.
The impact of the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria), has also been felt in the subregion, particularly in Turkey. The continued massive influx since the beginning of the crisis has placed considerable pressure on the protection and emergency response capacity in the country, and UNHCR provides support to the Government in coping with the protection and assistance needs of refugees.
To fill the protection gaps in the region, UNHCR launched the Quality Initiative in Eastern Europe and the Southern Caucasus in relation to asylum issues, in six countries in 2013. The project’s main goal is to improve the quality of refugee status determination (RSD) decisions. The Government of the Russian Federation approved the State Migration Policy Concept for the period up to 2025. This will result in a comprehensive review of a series of legislative acts, including the law on refugees.
Positive developments in Eastern Europe include accession by Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova to the Statelessness Conventions, with the latter having moved quickly to establish a statelessness determination procedure. The activation of a status determination procedure by Georgia, which has acceded to the 1954 Statelessness Convention, has helped reduce the number of stateless people in the country.
Statelessness, arising mainly as a consequence of the disintegration of the former Soviet Union and the difficulties facing national minorities seeking to prove their citizenship, remains a serious concern throughout the subregion. The Russian Federation’s adoption of an amendment to the Citizenship Law seeks to address the situation of stateless former Soviet citizens. UNHCR estimated that there were some 250,000 stateless people in Eastern Europe in 2012.
Internal displacement is another major challenge in Eastern Europe. Up to a million people are still displaced in the Caucasus region alone. UNHCR protects and assists Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in most countries in the region in accordance with the UN’s Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. It promotes durable solutions, including return and local integration whenever possible, while encouraging governments to play a greater role in meeting the needs of IDPs.