More than 300 Syrians get refugee status in Ukraine
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)