More than 300 Syr­i­ans get refugee sta­tus in Ukraine

Kyiv Post - - News - BY VERONIKA MELKOZE­ROVA MELKOZE­[email protected] Kyiv Post writer Veronika Melkoze­rova can be reached at melkoze­[email protected]

In re­cent weeks a flood of refugees from Syria has threat­ened to swamp the Euro­pean Union and wreck the Schen­gen Zone sys­tem of free move­ment among EU coun­tries.

While most of the refugees head for wealthy north­ern Euro­pean coun­tries like Ger­many and Swe­den, Ukraine has been tak­ing in a small num­ber as well – a lit­tle more than 300 in the last year.

That might not seem like many in com­par­i­son to Europe, where 350,000 Syr­i­ans have sought refuge so far in 2015, but it adds to the strains that Ukraine faces be­cause of Rus­sia’s war and 1.2 mil­lion in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple that the fight­ing in the Don­bas has cre­ated.

Nev­er­the­less, “an in­flux of mi­grants from abroad is not ex­pected in Ukraine due to the un­sta­ble eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion and the huge num­ber of in­ter­nal dis­placed peo­ple from Crimea and Don­bas,” Ser­hiy Gun­yak, a spokesman for the State Mi­gra­tion Ser­vice, told the Kyiv Post.

Those Syr­i­ans who chose to seek refuge in Ukraine faced sim­i­lar prob­lems to their com­pa­tri­ots who trav­elled west and north.

“Mi­grants aren’t rush­ing here, be­cause it’s dif­fi­cult to get in Ukraine,” Ali Ashura, a mem­ber of the Syr­ian com­mu­nity in Odesa, told the Kyiv Post.

“There is no in­stant ac­cess to Ukrainian borders, like in Tur­key or Greece for ex­am­ple. What is more, it’s rather dif­fi­cult for Syr­i­ans even to get a tourist visa here,” Ashura said.

Ac­cord­ing to Gun­yak, there are only two refugee cen­ters for for­eign mi­grants in Ukraine, in Odesa Oblast and another in Zakarpatty­a, where mi­grants are housed un­til a de­ci­sion on their ap­pli­ca­tion for asy­lum is taken. If the Ukrainian courts grant them refugee sta­tus, or they gain the right to live in Ukraine in another way, they are free to stay. But some face de­por­ta­tion back to their na­tive coun­try if the courts rule against them. Ev­ery de­ci­sion on grant­ing refugee sta­tus de­pends on the par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances of the asy­lum seeker, Gun­yak said.

The Syr­i­ans that choose Ukraine as the place in which to build a new life usu­ally have some prior con­nec­tion to the coun­try, he said.

“Most of the Syr­i­ans who choose Ukraine as their fi­nal des­ti­na­tion are those who were study­ing at the univer­si­ties here dur­ing Soviet times, or who still study or are mar­ried to Ukrainian women,” Gun­yak said. “We do not usu­ally give refugee sta­tus to that last cat­e­gory, be­cause they can in­te­grate and le­gal­ize in Ukrainian so­ci­ety as a part of a mixed mar­riage.”

Ab­du­lasam Abozhar is one Syr­ian in Ukraine who isn’t plan­ning to ap­ply for refugee sta­tus. Orig­i­nally from Aleppo, Syria, he has been study­ing medicine in Dnipropetr­o­vsk for the last six years. He says likes liv­ing in Ukraine, and speaks Rus­sian al­most flu­ently. The only prob­lem he has had in Ukraine is ver­bal racist abuse from some Ukraini­ans, but he hasn’t been the vic­tim of any vi­o­lence. He told the Kyiv Post that he and his Syr­ian friends didn’t ask for refugee sta­tus in Ukraine be­cause the state aid and liv­ing con­di­tions for refugees are barely suf­fi­cient.

Ac­cord­ing to Gun­yak, the most help that Syr­i­ans who are granted refugee sta­tus can ex­pect from the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment is a one-time pay­ment of Hr 17 (about 80 U.S. cents), food sup­plies, and tem­po­rary hous­ing un­til they find their own apart­ment and work.

That lack of help is even caus­ing some Syr­i­ans to at­tempt a sec­ond mi­gra­tion – this time to western Europe.

“There are way more ben­e­fits for Syr­i­ans in (western) Europe than here,” Ashura told the Kyiv Post. “That’s why some Syr­i­ans who have lived in Ukraine for a long time even started to mi­grate to Europe across the bor­der at Mukacheve (in western Ukraine) when the latest wave of mi­grants from Syria came to Europe.”

A re­cent re­port from the State Bor­der Guard Ser­vice of Ukraine con­firms this. Ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment, 162 Syr­i­ans were de­tained at the Ukrainian bor­der in 2014. Twelve were try­ing to get into Ukraine and 150 to cross into the EU. This year, 156 Syr­i­ans have been ar­rested so far on Ukraine’s borders with EU coun­tries, and only five were try­ing to get into Ukraine.

Although more than a third of a mil­lion Syr­i­ans have sought refuge in Europe this year, the coun­tries of the Mid­dle East are still en­dur­ing the worst of the mi­gra­tion cri­sis caused by the es­ca­la­tion of the war in Syria. Ac­cord­ing to the latest United Na­tions re­ports, Le­banon has taken in 1.11 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees, Tur­key- 1.94 mil­lion, Jor­dan- 629,266, Iraq- 249,463, and Egypt - 132,375.

Mi­grants and refugees in Is­tan­bul on Sept. 21. (AFP)

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