Celebrating 20 Years of partnership between UNHCR and The International Fund for Public Health and Environment “Carpathian Region” NEEKA
As 2020 marks 20 years of partnership between UNHCR and the International Fund for Public Health and Environment “Carpathian Region” (NEEKA), we’d like to take a moment to acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of this remarkable NGO.
One of the core strengths of UNHCR is the partnerships that we foster and cherish over the years. Some of those partnerships are short-lived and intense, some are long-term and sustainable, all of them are special and memorable. This year UNHCR Ukraine celebrates a truly big anniversary – 20 years long partnership with NEEKA, International Fund for Public Health and the Environment “Carpathian Region” in Zakarpattya.
NEEKA lawyers and social workers have helped thousands of adults and children in difficult situations. Working in collaboration with regional authorities, the NGO has successfully implemented a number of initiatives supporting both local residents and displaced persons, allowing for the creation of inclusive and cooperative communities.
An example of such action can be seen through NEEKA’s many interventions and negotiations with Ukrainian government, ensuring asylum seekers have fair access to both the asylum procedure and the territory itself. Their continued support extends far beyond such basic action, with NEEKA insisting that asylum seekers are given access to free legal advice as well as just and unbiased court representation. Furthermore, NEEKA has established a close cooperation with the regional State Border Guard Service (SBGS), in addition to the central SBGS Administration, providing the organisation with access to the border temporary detention facilities in the region and successfully intervening in cases of prevention detention, deportation, and access to asylum.
By constructing a favourable environment in which refugees, asylum seekers and persons with complementary protection are able to safely exercise their social and economic rights, NEEKA is helping such individuals engage in self-reliance activities by providing counselling and advice on durable solutions. NEEKA recognises that problems can’t be solved by throwing money at them, and has placed a focus over the past two decades on sustainable answers and constructive resolutions which grant those in need the awareness and independence they require in order to rebuild their lives.
“When I arrived to Ukraine and found myself in Zakarpattya, I felt desperate and alone. Once I met Neeka colleagues and slowly started engaging in their programs and activities, I gradually felt that I again have obtained my community of people who care and who are there to support. They became like my new family. You know that they do a lot of cool things for community, right? I’m happy they engage me I can give something back to this community with the skills and talents I have. Thank you Neeka for believing in me, wishing all the people who work there all the best!”
Using their breadth of knowledge and extensive support networks, NEEKA is able to further support refugees currently residing in temporary accommodation centres by answering their daily questions, liaising with administration, and providing access to essential services, both legal and otherwise. Through NEEKA’s community activities and promotion of mutual respect and understanding – as well as regular support to such residents through means of conflict resolution mediation – a high level of tolerance in the region has been established, in Mukachevo and Perechyn in particular. Successful integration is the key to NEEKA’s substantial achievements, and is prioritised in their ethos accordingly.
Neeka is a strong proponent for the life-long learning, welcoming expertise of different specialists, hosting ADRA volunteers, Peace Corps volunteers and enrolling into the long-term development programs for their organization.
Not only has NEEKA helped refugee children participate in local school activities such as art, sports and extracurricular activities, but has also established relations with employment centres in Perechyn, Mukachevo and Uzhgorod, where regular meetings with UNHCR persons of concern are held, alongside training programs supporting refugees in their search for secure employment. NEEKA facilitated the creation of a women’s club as part of the Perechyn employment centre, allowing both local residents and refugee women to come together to build a stable sense of community (as well as providing language education for those wanting to learn English or Ukrainian).
“I can speak with NEEKA staff as with my friends and can confide my worries, ask questions which I would not dare to ask to my family. They care about us, and wish us well. I think I speak not only for myself, but for the whole community that lives here in TAC. They make our children feel at home here, because, in fact, it is our new home.”
Additionally, as a result of NEEKA’s pioneering work in terms of medical assistance, Zakarpattya was the leading region wherein refugees were able to receive free medical services, as conceptualised by recent legislation. Prior to recent medical reforms, NEEKA was also able to achieve best practice when cooperating with local healthcare providers, ensuring that refugees and asylum-seekers had access to essential medical care.
Ensuring that communities have access to healthcare and sanitation is of key importance to NEEKA, and something they continue to strive for. In Zakarpattya, Roma nationals are those most likely to experience statelessness. In order to combat this, NEEKA works closely with this at-risk community, visiting tabors and providing assistance. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, the NGO has been responsible for delivering care packages containing basic hygiene products such as toothpaste to Mukachevo Romas in need of urgent support. The creation of Peaceful Coexistence Projects at local schools, hospitals, and employment centres are providing local residents and newcomers with opportunities to engage in meaningful interaction with one another, as well as promoting conversations around community engagement and integration. Through community mobilisation, refugee communities are currently receiving business grants and counselling on vocational training opportunities and, in one case, registering their own NGO.
“It was difficult at the beginning, but now I am living my dream. I study at the university, my family is safe and well, I have my friends and organise community projects in my city. I have career prospects because I study what I love. None of this would be possible if it weren’t for NEEKA colleagues, who inspired me when I needed it most.”
Thanks to the hard work of NEEKA, many stateless persons and people in risk of statelessness in Zakarpattya obtained documents and could start their lives anew. Many refugees started speaking Ukrainian and settled in the region, enriching it with their new cultures, skills, business ideas and hard work to make their new homes better and to give back to their communities.
Refugee communities in Accommodation Centers take pride in their join projects with NEEKA – bakery, greenhouse, women’s club, summer camps for kids, Ukrainian language speaking club, to name a few. These activities and projects make town community stronger and erase the walls among people. One can see it clearly when one enters the yard bustling with kids under NEEKA care – from the refugee centre, from the nearby neighbourhoods, from the camp on the outskirts.
“At the beginning, I had some problems with my documents. I was very young, did not understand the culture and the laws of Ukraine, and I was scared. Then Sasha and Vitaliy [lawyers in NEEKA] helped me and eventually I have my document. You can’t imagine what it feels like to know that you are safe, you have legal protection, and the professionals are helping you. This changed my life”.
Do you know the best shaurma in town? The talented person who started this food joint received his first initial support in Ukraine from NEEKA, which allowed him to develop his talent. Looking for the wedding photographer? One of the best ones in Mukachevo is a former refugee, who received NEEKA’s support for his business. Looking for a fancy iron-cast decoration for your house? Yes, the valued professional in this field started with the small boost from NEEKA, this very first boost that allows you to buckle up the courage and continue growing on your own. Have you seen the group of people practicing Nordic walking on Sundays afternoons out in the nature around Mukachevo? This is the refugee and local community of adults training together.
Over the course of the past two decades, NEEKA’s pioneering initiatives have drastically improved the lives of countless refugees and displaced persons, and their work shows no signs of slowing down. By supporting at-risk groups through solutions-oriented education and assistance, NEEKA has provoked tangible change in refugee and asylum-based communities, and hopefully will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
This article was edited thanks to the support of an online volunteer Elizabeth Yacyshyn-Owen. Find volunteering opportunities at https://www.onlinevolunteering.org/en