“With documents, my children have a future”

The International Roma Day draws attention to issues faced by many Roma people in Ukraine.

Today, on April 8, the entire world celebrates the International Roma Day. This day attracts the attention of the society not only to original Roma culture, history and national identity, but also the need to stop the persecution and discrimination that Roma face in many spheres of life.

UNHCR is based on the principles of equality, ensuring fundamental rights and freedoms without discrimination and working with people of different nationalities in Ukraine and in the world.

In Ukraine, UNHCR pays particular attention to addressing the risks associated with access to documents, legal protection of stateless persons, including assistance to the Roma population in these matters.

Anastasiya Gerasymenko is a Roma woman born in the Russian Soviet Social Republic in the USSR. In 1996, she and her mother relocated to the Ukrainian Soviet Social Republic. They both had USSR passports, but after the dissociation of the Soviet Union, did not apply for documents in independent Ukraine.

In legal terms, Gerasymenko and her mother became stateless persons. Gerasymenko now lives in the Rafailovo village with her husband, Tiberiy, and eight children. In 2004, they lost the remainder of their documentation in a fire.

The family lives in very poor conditions. To help her husband earn a leaving, Gerasymenko and one of their daughters, 7-yers-old Victoria, went to Lviv in the west of Ukraine to sort garbage at landfills, attempting to find and sell secondary raw materials. Gerasymenko and her daughter would also panhandle near one of the local churches.

When panhandling, the police asked to see their documents, and discovered that Gerasymenko does not have any. On the grounds of Gerasymenko not having documentation, they took away her daughter and placed her in a boarding school in Lviv. The administration did not allow Gerasymenko to see Victoria for three months, and Victoria thought that her mother had abandoned her.

My daughter Victoria was very scared because of this accident. She spent three months in a boarding school without knowing whether she will be able to go back to her family. Now she refuses to talk about it,” says Anastasiya with tears in her eyes. “I don’t want this to happen ever again.”

She could see Victoria again if she could confirm her identity. Luckily, soon after this accident in April 2018, Anastasiya met with a team of representatives from the UNHCR, the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, the State Migration Service, the Ombudsman’s office, Free Legal Aid lawyers, Roma communities’ leaders and NGO NEEKA. NGO NEEKA, a partner of the UNHCR, regularly organizes joint visits to Roma villages to solve any documentation issues many Roma people have.

Given the complexity of Gerasymenko’s problem and urgency to solve it, NGO NEEKA contacted Aksana Filipishyna, the representative of the Ombudswoman for the rights of children and family. Filipishyna gave special attention to this case and closely monitored developments. Thanks to the partnerships of all state bodies, Gerasymenko was able to reunite with her daughter and take her home. Victoria and her other seven children have also received their birth certificates.

However, this is only a partially happy ending. Gerasymenko and her mother still don’t have passports, and are currently assisted by NGO NEEKA.

Currently, over 35,000 people in Ukraine are legally stateless or are under the risk of statelessness. Many of these people are homeless people, people who have been released from penitentiaries, ethnic minorities, such as Roma, and children born in non-government controlled areas (NGCAs).

UNHCR also works with internally displaced persons in the Roma population, since the group itself has faced the mobile challenges associated with displacement and overall pre-populist attitudes. Based on universal approaches to addressing issues of protection and long-term solutions, UNHCR, together with its partners, is actively working with Roma communities, including internally displaced persons in Odesa, Zolotonosha, Uzhgorod. This approach allows actively mobilizing IDPs and local Roma, demonstrating the potential and active role of the Roma, enabling them to realize their unique projects and intentions. 

In 2019, UNHCR, in conjunction with partners and non-governmental organizations, authorities, conducted assessment of the situation in protection of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons; the “Participatory Assessment”, was also attended by IDPs of Roma nationality. In joint discussions, the participants shared their issues and the potential that they could bring to the host community. The research will reflect the words and aspirations of children and adolescents for the future.

Therefore, today, UNHCR reiterates the importance of ensuring the principles of equality, non-discrimination and inclusiveness, so to enable all citizens despite their skin color, religion, ethnicity to fully enjoy human rights, as well as realize their potential in host community.

Read more about statelessness problem in Ukraine: https://bit.ly/2UEnaR2