This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva
With more than 3.1 million refugees forced to flee Ukraine over the past three weeks, and millions internally displaced within the country, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is warning that humanitarian needs are increasing exponentially.
In addition to those who have had to flee, around 13 million people have been affected in the areas hardest hit by the war within Ukraine and are in need of humanitarian and protection assistance.
Many people remain trapped in areas of escalating conflict and, with essential services disrupted, are unable to meet their basic needs including food, water and medicines.
Humanitarian reports received from those areas are horrifying, and we continue to call for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, respect for international humanitarian law, and appeal to neighbouring countries to continue keeping their borders open to those fleeing in search of safety.
As UNHCR has warned from the outset, the pace and magnitude of the internal displacement and refugee exodus from Ukraine, as well as resulting humanitarian needs, will only increase if the situation deteriorates.
The humanitarian situation in cities such as Mariupol and Sumy is extremely dire, with residents facing critical and potentially fatal shortages of food, water and medicines. UNHCR is closely tracking negotiations for safe passage and already has humanitarian cargo pre-positioned. We are ready to send critical supplies into Sumy as soon as conditions allow.
In Odessa, authorities have appealed for support for general food assistance to cover the needs of some 450,000 people in the city, as well as medicines. As of 17 March, a permanent consultation point for protection, legal, and social matters is functioning at the Odesa railway station where 600 to 800 individuals transit daily on their way from Mykolaiv to the western oblasts of Ukraine.
The humanitarian needs in eastern Ukraine are becoming even more urgent. More than 200,000 people are now without access to water across several localities in Donetsk oblast while the constant shelling in Luhansk region has destroyed 80 percent of some localities, leaving 97,800 families without power.
Targeted attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure and lack of safe passage are increasing protection risks and posing serious threats to the lives of thousands of civilians. Vulnerable population groups – such as women and children, people with disabilities or with serious medical conditions, as well as older people and minority groups – are increasingly facing barriers in accessing critical services such as transportation, food, water, medicines, and emergency health care in impacted areas.
As part of the humanitarian response in Ukraine, and in close coordination with local authorities and other humanitarian agencies, we continue supporting the establishment of reception centres, delivering core relief items and emergency shelter and strengthening our support at border crossing points inside Ukraine. Protection services also remain of paramount importance, and we continue to facilitate access to legal aid, psychosocial support and other assistance to those most vulnerable.
UNHCR is launching a large-scale multi-purpose cash programme to help internally displaced people (IDPs), who fled their homes and left behind their belongings. This will help cover their basic needs like rent, food and hygiene items. Cash assistance allows people to make choices, prioritize their needs and boosts local providers. UNHCR started enrolling IDPs for its programme in Lviv on 17 March and will progressively expand to other cities and regions.
UNHCR staff on the ground undertake regular protection monitoring – at the main border crossing points, transit centers and reception centers and other locations where refugees pass or gather – to assess protection risks and assist the authorities in addressing them. As women and children constitute some 90 per cent of those who have fled Ukraine for neighbouring countries, UNHCR and other agencies have warned of increased risks of trafficking and exploitation. Given the very high protection risks, UNHCR and partners are disseminating key information and awareness raising messages to alert refugees of the risks of trafficking, exploitation and abuse.
We deployed Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) Coordinators, gender and child protection experts to Poland, Moldova, Hungary, and Romania and have set up protection coordination structures with other partners and national authorities to ensure an efficient and coherent approach.
In response to the Ukraine emergency, UNHCR and UNICEF have agreed to jointly roll out the ‘Blue Dots’ in 6 countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, the Republic of Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia). Other countries may be added as the situation evolves and depending on the needs on the ground. The Blue Dots are one-stop-shops, and safe spaces which provide a minimum set of protection services for children, families and others with specific needs, in support of existing services and government efforts.
They aim to improve accessibility and standardization of services provided by different partners, as well as predictability through a recognizable label – the ‘Blue Dot’. They have become a recognizable component of emergency assistance and a good example of inclusiveness in collaboration, where all service providers are welcomed to operate, provided the services meet relevant protection standards.