As the full-scale war on Ukraine reached a 500-day mark, an absolute majority of Ukrainians displaced as refugees abroad or inside the country report still express a hope and intention to return home, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)’s latest survey reveals. Seventy-six per cent of refugees surveyed by UNHCR in EU countries and Moldova and 82 per cent of internally displaced Ukrainians plan or hope to return permanently, according to the study “Lives on hold: Intentions and Perspectives of Refugees and IDPs from Ukraine”. With active hostilities ongoing, taking lives and damaging civilian homes and infrastructure, only about 15 per cent plan to return in the next three months and intend to stay in their current location, either abroad or in safer areas in Ukraine.
Hopes to return are higher (71%) among refugees who found temporary protection in countries neighbouring Ukraine, compared to those hosted in other European countries (57%). Since their displacement, over a third of refugees (39%) and 50% of internally displaced people have been able to travel back to their home regions for short-term visits, which help people maintain connections with their families and communities and make informed decisions about the conditions of their eventual return.
According to the findings, Mykolaiv, Chernihiv, Kyiv and Kharkiv regions, as well as Kyiv city, were identified among the top areas of intended return. While safety and security were cited as the main factors preventing displaced people from returning home now, access to basic services, housing, employment and livelihoods were named as enablers facilitating return.
“To enable refugees and internally displaced people to return, recover and rebuild their lives in their areas of origin, UNHCR contributes to area-based programmes and durable solutions in areas of return through protection services, housing and community-based programmes. This also includes legal assistance to help returnees recover ID documents and property documents and with house repairs, and prefabricated homes,” noted the UNHCR Representative in Ukraine, Karolina Lindholm Billing in her briefing on 7 July.
UNHCR has prioritized house repairs in areas to which many displaced Ukrainians have already returned, and so far repaired 1,800 houses in Chernihiv region, 1,500 houses in Kharkiv region and 2,200 in Mykolaiv region. In total across Ukraine, UNHCR has so far supported the repair of over 13,000 houses and helped more than 240,000 people with legal aid services, and this work continues.
In the areas of Khersonska, Dnipropetrovska and Mykolaivska oblasts affected by not only hostilities but also by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, UNHCR has provided protection services, relief items, such as blankets, mattresses, bedding kits, solar lamps, and emergency shelter assistance and is now assessing the longer-term damages to houses for support with durable repairs.
Last week, UNHCR also published a “Position on Voluntary Returns to Ukraine” which reaffirms that UNHCR is not promoting returns to Ukraine at the present moment, as the invasion and international armed conflict is ongoing. At the same time, UNHCR emphasizes that voluntarily returning to one’s home country is a fundamental human right which must be respected and supported. In line with its initial non-returns advisory, issued in March 2022, UNHCR continues to advocate for protection of civilians of all nationalities fleeing Ukraine and for flexibility of host countries towards short-term visits to Ukraine by refugees.
The fourth round of intentions surveys among refugees from Ukraine and the second round of intentions surveys among IDPs living within Ukraine were conducted by Ipsos SA in parallel during April and May 2023. While the survey among IDPs used phone-based modalities for data collection, the refugee survey used a mixed methodology combining both phone and web-based modes for data collection. In total, 4,000 households of IDPs and 3,850 households of refugees completed the survey.