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Acute needs of older Ukrainian refugees and those with disabilities must not be overlooked

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Acute needs of older Ukrainian refugees and those with disabilities must not be overlooked

27 April 2023
Poland. Refugees from Ukraine at the Kapelanka hostel

Ukrainian refugees Tetiana and her 12-year-old daughter Masha, who has Downs syndrome and epilepsy, live in a hotel in Poland.

GENEVA — As the full-scale war in Ukraine continues into its second year, a significant number of the most vulnerable Ukrainian refugees in Europe are struggling to access decent housing, employment, and assistance in displacement, despite the remarkable welcome offered by host countries, according to a new analysis from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

While the report outlines much progress made by hosts to facilitate refugee inclusion, the analysis highlights the particular challenges faced by the most vulnerable refugee households – those with at least one individual with a specific need, including older people and those with disabilities.

UNHCR’s new Regional Protection Analysis report, Displacement Patterns, Protection Risks and Needs of Refugees From Ukraine, is based on recent interviews with over 17,700 refugees in countries neighbouring Ukraine, including Hungary, the Republic of Moldova, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.

More than one in five families interviewed – 22 per cent – include a member with a specific need such as disabilities or serious medical conditions. These families face much greater difficulty meeting their basic needs, exacerbating the risks they face.

“Systematic identification of those at heightened risk, at an early stage, is essential to ensure access to services and support needed for the most vulnerable,” said Pascale Moreau, UNHCR’s Regional Director for Europe.

Amongst those households interviewed, some 12 per cent reported at least one member with a disability, and some 13 per cent included one or more older people, aged 60 or more. Both groups experience increased challenges accessing healthcare compared to other households.

Similarly, both groups are more likely to reside in collective sites or with relatives rather than in rented accommodation, with many state emergency accommodation programmes coming to an end in the near future. This has a knock-on effect on the ability to exercise other rights, including enrolling children in schools, or accessing employment or social protection.

“As emergency accommodation programmes draw to a close, efforts must be undertaken to ensure that the most vulnerable are included in longer-term solutions. We must continue supporting host countries to ensure access to adequate housing and social assistance, ensuring nobody is left behind” added Moreau.

Those with a disability are less likely to find employment, affecting their overall income and subsequently their access to secure housing. Likewise, the vast majority of older people – 82 per cent – are either unemployed or retired, relying on pensions from Ukraine or social protection from host countries.

Sadly, some 92 per cent of older people report struggling to meet their basic needs, which - in line with findings of UNHCR’s recent intentions survey – may make them more likely to return to Ukraine in the next three months, even as the war rages on, due to the difficulties they face in host countries. The lack of identification of those at heightened risk at the early stages of their displacement leads to increased vulnerability over time.

Beyond the most vulnerable refugees, the report also found that a quarter of refugees lacked crucial legal documentation – including identification or civil status documents, with 30 per cent unable to obtain a replacement in host countries. Of those interviewed, some 10 per cent will also need to find new accommodation within the next three months owing to the expiration of several free accommodation programmes in host countries.

UNHCR stands ready to support host states in overcoming the existing gaps and barriers to inclusion for the most vulnerable which are surmountable if the right investments are made to support states’ national social protection systems, the provision of information, access to local services, and innovation.

Notes to editor:

Since the onset of the war in Ukraine, UNHCR has been closely monitoring the protection situation of refugees from Ukraine and has conducted studies on the implementation of the Temporary Protection Directive, alongside establishing protection monitoring systems in countries neighbouring Ukraine.

This newly released report follows the first Regional Protection Analysis report published in October 2022.

The survey was conducted by UNHCR and partners between October 2022 and February 2023. The related report was based on direct interviews, and the results of numerous focus group discussions with refugee communities.

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