The constitution and law provide citizens with freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. International and domestic organizations reported that the system to protect asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concerns did not operate effectively.
The UNHCR described the asylum system as “dysfunctional” and continued to advise other countries not to return third-country asylum seekers to Ukraine. According to the UNHCR, returned refugees could not be assured of access to a fair and efficient procedure to determine refugee status according to international refugee standards, or to effective protection against refoulement. The government also at times denied the UNHCR access to persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a legal system to protect refugees. However, international protection for asylum seekers was insufficient due to both legislative gaps and the system of implementation. Authorities failed to provide effective protection for refugees and asylum seekers.
According to observers, recent legal reforms and judicial actions brought some advances in access to asylum. However, legal obstacles for asylum seekers remained. For example, human rights groups noted that the refugee law falls short of international standards due to its restrictive definition of who is a refugee. The law also narrowly defines who is eligible for complementary protection and excludes persons in need of international protection. The law permits authorities to reject many asylum applications without a thorough case assessment, depriving asylum seekers of the opportunity to present their complete asylum application and forcing them to seek protection elsewhere. In other cases government officials declined to accept initial asylum applications without legal basis, leaving asylum seekers without documentation and vulnerable to frequent police stops, fines, detention, and exploitation. A five-day appeal period prevented asylum seekers in practice from appealing rulings on their detention or deportation.
The UNHCR noted that the Refugee Department of the State Migration Service (SMS) lacked sufficient autonomy to make impartial determinations about refugee status. The absence of such autonomy opened decision making on refugee status and protection to influence by other factors, such as concerns about irregular migration.
In more than 50 cases during the year, the government refused refugee status to individuals that other governments subsequently found to have legitimate claims under the UNCHR resettlement program. They were subsequently accepted as refugees after Ukrainian authorities did not provide asylum protection.
The government discriminated against asylum applications from individuals from Russia, Belarus, or countries in Central Asia. According to government figures, as of September only one application from those countries was approved.
During the year the number of asylum applications increased because the SMS did not function properly during part of 2011 by failing to accept applications for international protection. The large number of applicants and limited administrative resources caused delays for many applicants and left them without documentation and vulnerable to exploitation.
Authorities detained some asylum seekers for extended periods. In some cases individuals were detained for up to one year. Some individuals, when released, were given three days to leave the country. Most individuals could not meet the departure deadline. As a result, some were rearrested and detained again for up to one year.
Refoulement: The government did not assure protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to a country where there was reason to believe their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The UNHCR reported that asylum seekers at borders were not guaranteed access to the country’s territory. During the year the UNHCR recorded at least two incidents involving the expulsion of two individual asylum seekers or refugees.
For example, the UNHCR reported that on August 15 authorities violated the principle of nonrefoulement and national and international law by extraditing a Russian citizen to a country where he had a well-founded fear of repression. The UNHCR had recognized the Russian citizen as a refugee and concluded that forcibly returning him to his home country exposed him to unacceptable risks of serious human rights violations and constituted refoulement. Another country party to the UN Convention on Refugees had also recognized the Russian citizen as a refugee before his extradition.
Refugee Abuse: Authorities frequently detained asylum seekers without court order for extended periods. Asylum seekers also were detained repeatedly for purposes of deportation.
In a letter dated January 31 to the interior minister, Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the “arbitrary detention of some or all of a group of 125 Somali nationals” at the Zhuravychi Migrant Accommodation Centre. Some of the detainees were registered with the UNHCR or with the country’s authorities as asylum seekers. Others reportedly told the UNHCR they were prevented from applying for asylum in the country.
On August 3, refugee Umar Abuev was severely beaten while in custody in a Kyiv pretrial detention center. Abuev had been classified as an asylum seeker, and the UNHCR recognized him as a refugee under its mandate. Detention officials reportedly moved Abuev to the visiting area of the detention center, where an unidentified outsider beat him. He suffered a number of injuries and lapsed into a coma. The human rights ombudsman monitored the case, but prison authorities did not investigate the attack. Abuev was released from the detention facility after authorities recognized him as a refugee and declined to extradite him.
Human rights groups noted that the law on refugees does not expressly provide protection for war refugees, victims of indiscriminate violence, or unsuccessful asylum seekers who could face the threat of torture or loss of life or freedom if deported. Other laws provide some protection against forcible return for asylum seekers.
Additionally, refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from Africa and Asia, were at times victims of violent, racially motivated attacks. Asylum seekers in detention centers were sometimes unable to apply for refugee status within the prescribed time limits and had limited access to legal and other assistance.
Lack of access to qualified interpreters hampered the full range of asylum procedures. International observers noted that the government did not provide resources for translators, which created opportunities for corruption and undermined the fairness of asylum application procedures.
According to the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), the country’s estimated 200 unaccompanied minor asylum seekers faced additional risks. Ukraine lacked an effective mechanism in both law and practice to determine the age of asylum seekers. Authorities often incorrectly identified minors as adults through ad hoc assessments, in part because the law allows adults to be detained and processed more easily than minors. The DRC reported that at least 25 unaccompanied minor asylum seekers were detained and held in violation of the law during the year. Unaccompanied minors may not legally apply for asylum on their own behalf, and authorities sometimes failed to appoint a responsible adult to act on the child’s behalf, leaving the child in limbo. Because such minors lacked status as asylum seekers, they could not access official support and often were forced to rely on informal networks for food, shelter, and other needs. As a result, they remained vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and other forms of exploitation.
Access to Basic Services: Human rights groups reported that asylum seekers lacked social and economic rights and assistance. For example, authorities did not provide language courses, social assistance, or employment assistance, and most asylum seekers were unable to obtain a work permit as required by law. In an effort to survive, some attempted to work illegally, increasing their risk of protection problems and exploitation.
The country remained an origin, destination, and transit country for migrants. Authorities previously increased the number of temporary accommodation centers to house refugees, but the number of available spaces remained inadequate to meet requirements.
According to the law, citizenship is derived by birth, territorial origin, naturalization, restored citizenship, and adoption.
According to UNHCR estimates, there were 39,817 stateless persons in the country. Stateless persons also included an unknown number of persons who either lived in the country for decades but failed to clarify their citizenship status after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 or arrived in the country as students or visitors both before and after 1991. Many did not obtain residency documents or take other steps to register as foreign residents according to the regulations of their country of origin. Formerly deported persons (mainly Crimean Tatars) also continued to return to the country and were sometimes at risk of statelessness due to legal and bureaucratic barriers.