Uncertainty lingers for displaced Ukrainians as the conflict enters fourth year
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
As the conflict enters its fourth year, nearly 1.6 million internally displaced Ukrainians struggle to find safety, adequate housing and access to employment.
Sporadic exchanges of fire in areas near the line of contact continue to damage civilian infrastructure, leading to new humanitarian needs and creating risks of displacement. Safety and security remain major concerns for nearly 800,000 people living near the Line of Contact in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the country’s East.
In June this year, the State Border Guard Service (SBGS) of Ukraine recorded more than 1.1 million crossings of the dividing line in eastern Ukraine. UNHCR is concerned about difficulties regarding freedom of movement of civilians, particularly while crossing the conflict line. There are frequently long queues and subsequent delays at checkpoints. Those waiting to cross have limited access to basic services, such as drinking water, latrines, weather shelters and medical care.
This creates additional hardships for those with limited mobility and specific needs, especially older people and mothers with children making the journey. Earlier this year, UNHCR provided technical assistance to improve conditions at all crossing points to reduce delays.
Since the beginning of 2016, nearly 586,000 retired and elderly people residing in the conflict zone lost access to their pensions as a result of verification procedures introduced by the Government of Ukraine. This has affected the most vulnerable groups, as many of them depend on pensions and social payments as their sole source of income.
Those living in non-government controlled areas are required to register as internally displaced persons with the Ukrainian authorities in order to have access to their rightful pensions and social payments.
UNHCR and its partners advocate for ensuring that displaced people have full access to government services and payments, including de-linking pensions and social benefits from the place of residence.
Displacement has affected vulnerable groups particularly harshly, including more than 50,000 people with disabilities who have been forced to flee their homes. Besides access to services, they often face additional difficulties and discrimination based on their disability, ethnic or religious background.
At least 40 communities residing near the dividing line have limited access to medical services. Some 150 healthcare facilities have been damaged since the start of the conflict, and medical personnel have also left the area.
Children in affected zones have limited access to education due to the security situation and damaged school buildings. At least 700 schools have been damaged since the start of the conflict, including 55 schools directly impacted since the beginning of the year. In 2017, 89 schools have been repaired with UNHCR’s assistance.
The level of destruction of civilian houses is significantly higher than expected, with approximately 40 to 60 houses in certain communities close to the front line being damaged every week. More than 10,000 damaged houses need to be rehabilitated. In 2017, UNHCR and shelter partners helped to repair more than 1,000 civilian shelters, however it is only a fraction of needs as continued shelling and hazardous security conditions hamper access to many newly damaged areas.
Earlier this year UNHCR conducted 123 focus group discussions with the conflict-affected population, including women, orphaned children, persons with disabilities and serious medical conditions, and LGBTI in 10 regions of Ukraine. The report summarizing this participatory assessment provides first-hand accounts and testimonies of displaced families.
Among problems with security, access to basic services, housing, employment and livelihoods, residents of frontline communities speak of civilian houses being used for military purposes. The stationing of combatants and weapons in residential areas places civilian populations at risk during fighting.
UNHCR continues to call on all parties involved in the conflict to ensure protection of civilians and civilian settlements from the consequences of fighting, shelling and to restrict the use of civilian homes for military purposes.
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