Ukraine: UNHCR concerned by rise in attacks on asylum seekers, refugees

Briefing Notes, 8 June 2007

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 June 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

We are extremely concerned at what seems to be an increasing trend in the number and seriousness of racist attacks against asylum seekers, refugees and other foreigners in Ukraine. At the same time, a number of incidents of police violence against people seeking protection in Ukraine have been reported.

In the latest incident, an Iraqi asylum seeker who was seeking protection in Ukraine after fleeing his war-torn homeland was killed in Kyiv on 3 June. The motives for this act are not yet known, and a police investigation is currently under way. But the number of attacks and harassment against foreigners in Ukraine in the last few months make it necessary to investigate the motives of this murder carefully, including racist motivations. UNHCR has requested that the Government of Ukraine keep the office informed of the outcome of the investigation.

UNHCR first voiced concerns over what appeared as xenophobic acts in Ukraine on 13 July 2001, after a refugee from Rwanda was beaten to death outside his home in Vinnitsa. In March 2005, a former refugee of Iraqi origin, employed by a UNHCR partner organization, was severely beaten in Kyiv by a gang of youngsters. Since then, UNHCR's office in Kyiv has been receiving on a regular basis, first-hand reports of racially motivated incidents, unprovoked attacks, beatings, verbal insults and other acts of xenophobia against refugees and asylum seekers in different regions of Ukraine.

There are also regular media reports of attacks and harassment of foreigners in Kyiv, including members of the diplomatic community.

UNHCR acknowledges the important steps taken by the Ukrainian authorities to address this problem, including high-profile public statements by the Minister of the Interior. UNHCR also appreciates the openness of the authorities in Kyiv to discuss these problems. UNHCR encourages the Ukrainian authorities to increase their efforts to put an end to these attacks and to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice, as a matter of urgency.

UNHCR is working together with other UN agencies, the diplomatic community and human rights organizations in Ukraine to counteract xenophobia and racism. As part of this effort, a number of advocacy activities designed to promote tolerance have been organized and free legal aid to victims of xenophobia and racial violence is provided.