• Hundreds of thousands of IDPs did not receive social payments in March – many more are at risk
• Ongoing conflict impacts civilian lives and infrastructure
• Long-awaited additional checkpoint on the ‘contact line’ opened and closed again on 31 March
• Recommendations for the revision of the humanitarian coordination architecture are being implemented
Ukraine’s IDPs fear losing support
Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens are living in fear of being deprived of their status as internally displaced persons (IDPs) which legally entitles them to receive social payments. The Government has suspended social payments and started a procedure of verification for registered IDPs from five eastern Ukrainian oblasts (Dnipropetrovska, Donetska, Kharkivska, Zaporizka and Luhanska) owing to suspect of fraud schemes. As many as 500,000 people could be affected, according to estimates by the Ombudsperson of the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights. While official data is not available, field reports indicate that more than 600,000 IDPs may have their social welfare payments suspended or ultimately cancelled in the process.
As of 24 March 2016, the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine (MoSP) has registered a total of 1.75 million IDPs from the peninsula of Crimea and the conflict area in eastern Ukraine. While many of these people permanently stay in Government-controlled areas (GCA), others, living in non-Government controlled areas (NGCA), regularly cross the ‘contact line’ as existing laws link payment of benefits and pensions to the IDP status. The number of registered IDPs has been growing sharply in recent months, with some 100,000 new registrations since December 2015. In light of the protracted conflict, the rapid downfall of the economy and high unemployment rates, people have exhausted their resources and turn to the State for support.
However, the Ukrainian Government stresses the need to fight fraud and suggests that not all of the registered IDPs obtained this status rightly. The State Security Service compiled a list of IDPs potentially suspected of fraud, yet the criteria as well as the procedure for such verification remain unclear. Due to the absence of legislative frameworks, local authorities are reportedly using different methods of revision, e.g. home raids or inquiry of witnesses who can prove that a displaced person is indeed displaced. These measures have created anxiety among IDPs as illustrated by a sharp increase in phone calls received by information hotlines.
The national law adopted in October 2014 defines an IDP as a “citizen or permanent resident of Ukraine who was forced to flee due to conflict, temporary occupation, generalised violence or mass human rights violations.” In October 2014, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine adopted Resolution 509 to establish a registration system operated by the MoSP and to delegate registration and benefit payments to district and city social service departments. According to Resolution 509, IDPs also include foreigners and stateless persons permanently residing in Ukraine but displaced from NGCA. An able-bodied IDP is entitled to 442 UAH (or US$ 17) of State support while IDP dependents like children and pensioners receive on average 884 UAH (or US$ 34) per month. For many IDPs, this payment constitutes a substantial part of their income (an average salary in Ukraine is US$ 147) or is the only income.
An additional source of concern is the suspension of regular pensions not connected to the IDP status to hundreds of thousands of IDP pensioners in all five oblasts concerned. According to estimates by humanitarian partners, the Donetsk and Luhansk Pension Funds (GCA) have suspended paying pensions to 285,000 and 87,000 IDP pensioners, respectively. The humanitarian community urges the Government to de-link social payments for IDPs from pensions which are an inalienable right of all citizens who meet certain eligibility requirements.
Even those IDPs whose status is ultimately verified, risk to suffer from bottlenecks while waiting for the verification as the Departments of Social Protection (DoSP) and the Pension Fund cannot process paperwork quickly enough. The number of IDPs queuing in front of administration buildings exceeds by far the capacity to receive people. As a result, people start waiting in line at 3 am. The situation is especially difficult for IDPs living in NGCAs who have to cross the ‘contact line’ to GCA and are forced to stay overnight when not being able to cope with bureaucracy within a day. Often times, the cost of travel and accommodation exceeds the monthly social payment or pension the IDPs are trying to get reinstated. The State Emergency Service (SES) in Luhanska oblast informed that they have some capacity to accommodate the most vulnerable IDPs in their transit centres, but they seek support from the humanitarian community to provide food.
The complicated verification creates significant stress for IDPs, particularly for the elderly. Government authorities confirmed that two persons died of heart attacks in Luhansk DoSP building and near the pedestrian checkpoint in Stanytsya Luhanska in mid-March.
Representatives of NGOs working on protection of IDPs called on the Government to immediately stop suspending IDPs’ social payments on the basis of data provided outside the procedure established by law and to ensure that IDPs continue to receive social benefits and pension payments. Furthermore, they urge the Government to elaborate a scheme on prevention of fraud in social sphere based on national and international human rights standards, to conduct wide public consultations with humanitarian community and people concerned prior to making decisions that affect IDPs and conflict-affected population
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.