(Kiev, November 30, 2005) Ukraine regularly subjects migrants and asylum seekers to abuse, including extended detention in appalling conditions, violence, extortion, robbery and forced returns to face torture or persecution, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today on the eve of the EU-Ukraine summit.
“Ukraine is failing every test when it comes to protecting migrants rights,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “Instead of pressuring Ukraine to take back more and more migrants, the European Union needs to help the Ukrainian government to address these serious problems.”
The 77–page report, “On the Margins - Ukraine: Rights Violations Against Migrants and Asylum Seekers at the New Eastern Border of the European Union,” documents the routine detention of migrants and asylum in appalling conditions, including severe overcrowding, frequently inadequate bedding and clothing, and little or no access to fresh air, exercise and medical treatment.
The report also documents the physical abuse, verbal harassment, robbery and extortion suffered by those in detention. Migrants and asylum seekers in detention often have no access to a lawyer and are unable to apply for release. The asylum system is barely functioning, leading to the forced return of people to countries where they face persecution or torture.
Moreover, Human Rights Watch also documented the use of return agreements between Ukraine and its EU neighbors to summarily return migrants and asylum seekers to Ukraine without first determining whether they need protection as refugees or on human rights grounds.
Asylum seekers from Chechnya are particularly vulnerable, both to abuse at the hands of the Ukrainian police and forced return to Russia, despite the risk of persecution they face in that country. Although Russian citizens do not require visas to enter Ukraine, Chechens are routinely denied access at the border unless they pay bribes. Chechens detained in Ukraine trying to enter the European Union are denied access to asylum. In fact, no Chechen has been recognized as a refugee in Ukraine. A Chechen woman told Human Rights Watch, “They don't consider us human beings.”
The EU enlargement in May 2004 extended the borders of the European Union to Ukraine. Ukraine is now confronted with pressure at both its eastern and western borders. Increasing numbers of migrants and asylum seekers attempt to reach EU territory from the east. At the same time, the Ukraine government faces pressure from the west. The European Union is pressing Ukraine to accept ever larger numbers of migrants and failed asylum seekers from the European Union. This is set to increase once Ukraine and the European Union reach agreement on an EU-wide returns mechanism. The European Union is also pressing Ukraine to increase enforcement of their common border.
“Ukraine wants closer ties with the European Union, so it is naturally keen to cooperate on migration matters,” said Cartner. “But this cooperation is exacerbating Ukraine’s human rights record, making closer ties with the European Union less likely.”
The report is based on interviews with more than 150 migrants and asylum seekers in Ukraine and its EU neighbors, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. It concludes that Ukraine cannot be considered a safe country for the purpose of returning migrants who are foreign nationals and failed asylum seekers unless Ukraine shows a significant improvement in its human rights and refugee-protection capacity. The European Union has a crucial role to play if those changes are to occur. The report makes key recommendations to the Ukrainian government and to the European Union:
The Ukrainian government should:
- Bring its laws on migrants and asylum seekers in compliance with international standards.
- Immediately make it possible for every asylum seeker to fairly present a claim and to be protected from removal until the claim is determined.
- Develop and implement strict guidelines on conditions of detention, and give detainees the right to apply for release.
The European Union should:
- Condition the implementation of the EU-Ukraine return agreement on a clear set of benchmarks including access to asylum, legislative improvements and the upgrading of reception and detention conditions in Ukraine.
- Refrain from sending asylum seekers and migrants to Ukraine until there is enough evidence that these benchmarks are met.
- Ensure that any future EU initiative in relation with Ukraine is not used to justify the exclusion from the European Union of asylum seekers who transit through Ukraine or their summary removal from EU territory without first determining their protection needs.
To read about Human Rights Watch’s other work in this area, please see: http://www.hrw.org/doc/?t=refugees&document_limit=0,2