Ukraine: Translating IDPs' protection into legislative action

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More than 1.6 million people are registered as internally displaced in Ukraine. Most have been forced to flee their homes over the past two years as a result of the political chaos sparked by anti-government protests in 2014, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the self-proclamation of the “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk and intense armed conflict in the east of the country. Those who have fled from Donbas and Crimea to other regions in Ukraine are referred to as pereselentsi, a Russian term for “relocated people” or “migrants” that is taken locally to mean internally displaced people (IDPs).

The number of people registered as displaced has continued to grow despite the ceasefire envisaged under the February 2015 Minsk II agreement. As of November 2016, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (MoSP) put the number of registered IDPs in the country at 1,663,843. The real number is likely to be different because the MoSP figure includes some registered IDPs who live in or have returned to non-government controlled areas (NGCAs), but excludes IDPs who are not willing, able or eligible to register.

This paper provides an overview of issues that have emerged during Ukraine’s development of a normative response to internal displacement, and the challenges inherent in implementing the regulatory framework that was established at the onset of the crisis. It focuses on three areas that are clearly problematic: IDPs’ registration and the granting of a legal status for them; civil registration and the issuance of documents; and effective and non-discriminatory access to social benefits and pensions.

The analysis reveals that a number of legislative initiatives may be needed to address these concerns:

  • Amend the law on civil status registration to ensure that IDPs living in NGCAs have access to the administrative procedures for the issuing of birth, marriage and death certificates, and to guarantee that the procedures do not discriminate against unregistered IDPs

  • Decouple access to social benefits from the recognition of status as an IDP by amending or revoking the appropriate cabinet regulations

  • Mandate the Ministry of Temporary Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons to coordinate state policymaking on displacement, and ensure budget allocations for national policy implementation

  • Eliminate legal provisions that require IDPs living in NGCAs to cross the contact line in order to obtain or renew their documents

  • Ensure that IDPs living in NGCAs have unrestricted access to state services without reference to their registered place of residence