“All member states should strengthen their efforts to coordinate – both at domestic and European levels – and scale up support for the response to the humanitarian and human rights needs of people fleeing the war in Ukraine. Medium and long-term planning is urgently needed to ensure sustainability of humanitarian assistance, effective integration, and the protection of safety and dignity of people fleeing,” said today the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, following a series of separate monitoring missions members of her staff carried out to Poland, the Slovak Republic, Hungary and Romania from 16 to 21 March 2022, a mission by the Commissioner to the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic on 21 and 22 March,* and her earlier mission to the Republic of Moldova from 6 to 8 March.
The Commissioner stresses that member states not sharing a border with Ukraine must also step up their role to coordinate and support the enormous efforts provided in the countries she and her teams visited. “This should include the facilitation of movement to other countries”, she said.
According to UNHCR, more than 3.6 million people have so far fled Ukraine since the start of the war. Most of them are hosted in countries close to Ukraine. In view of the challenges faced by these countries, all Council of Europe member states should step up their assistance, including by providing all necessary funding. A specifically urgent need is to help to transfer people fleeing Ukraine to other countries in Europe. So far, onward movement is mainly spontaneous or organised by private actors. But central governments, regional authorities and municipalities in other member states must urgently start coordinating and organising such transfers with countries neighbouring Ukraine, and must do so in very large numbers in order to meet the current needs. Creating more predictability and clarity on where people moving onward can be appropriately accommodated is crucial for these people and also for countries now at the forefront of receiving them. It is also important with a view to reducing the risks of trafficking in human beings and exploitation. Sending more trains, buses and other means of transport in a coordinated way is a very concrete step that governments, regions and cities now can and must take.
The Commissioner also underscores the need for medium and long-term measures in countries neighbouring or close to Ukraine.
“I am impressed by the enormous efforts that my teams and I saw in all countries we visited. Volunteers, NGOs, religious organisations and charities, local and regional authorities, national human rights structures, border guards, fire and rescue and law enforcement services, were the first to welcome people fleeing Ukraine with open arms. They continue to assist people with a selfless show of humanity and solidarity”, said the Commissioner. “This extraordinary mobilisation has made it possible to provide the necessary emergency aid, including food and drink, medical care, psychological support, temporary accommodation, interpretation, and pro bono legal services”. However, relying mainly on such civil society and local efforts is not sustainable and it is important that state authorities assume more responsibility, as they are now doing in some of the member states. Member States should publicly acknowledge and value the crucial role played by civil society and continue to work closely together with them in the next steps of the humanitarian response, including by providing them with any necessary support. In many cases, member states will continue to rely on the thousands of volunteers and others to overcome the many challenges that still lie ahead.”
In several of the member states visited, the extent to which central governments were making medium and long-term plans remained unclear to many persons and organisation providing direct help on the ground. With an estimated 6.5 million people internally displaced inside Ukraine, the ongoing attacks on many places in the country, and constant fear of further attacks on places that are currently relatively safe, there is a clear need to boost preparedness for the reception of more vulnerable and larger groups of people fleeing the war in Ukraine.
In particular, access to housing, employment, financial aid and education for people fleeing Ukraine, and their overall integration into society, are urgent concerns. Interlocutors were acutely aware of these issues, including how these might impact their own citizens’ access to services, but developing responses to this must be accelerated. Consistent and positive communication from governments on the situation of persons fleeing Ukraine is also crucial to deal with any emerging changes in attitude among the general population and to counter disinformation. Sufficient flexibility in providing funding to all actors involved in a quick and easy way must also be created to appropriately react to the changing needs and circumstances.
The Commissioner found that most of the reception centres she and her teams visited were well-organised and competently managed. Nevertheless, most reception places are aimed only at short term stay and are not suitable for longer presence. With shortages of both privately provided and government-sponsored accommodation already being acute, there is a severe risk that such temporary reception places become long-term housing solutions for which they are clearly not adapted.
During the missions, many signals were received that persons fleeing Ukraine, assistance providers and even authorities themselves were confused about specific rights under temporary protection schemes. There is an urgent need, to be met by neighbouring states and other countries jointly, to ensure clarity about the various options regarding the possibility to move to other European countries, to return to Ukraine, or to access employment, healthcare, social assistance and education in different member states. This information should be actively provided in all relevant places, including in reception centres and on social media platforms.
Special attention should be paid to the protection of specific groups of people.
The risk of trafficking in human beings of women and children was underscored in all countries visited, and the Commissioner welcomes the heightened awareness of this issue. Efforts such as registering persons offering transport and accommodation or covert police operations in the arrival points are commendable ways to cope with this problem. Nevertheless, it is necessary to strengthen these efforts to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings. The recommendations by the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) and the Lanzarote Committee should inform further action. Additionally, in relation to the many women and girls fleeing Ukraine, access to sexual and reproductive health services in member states visited may be problematic and this should be a particular point of attention, especially as regards those fleeing Ukraine who may need specific assistance, including access to safe and legal abortion services.
Border control, law enforcement and child protection authorities should also strengthen the identification and registration of unaccompanied and separated children, and implement family tracing and reunification procedures for those children. This should include enhancing the capacities of safe places for children, in particular family-based solutions, and strengthening referral and guardianship procedures.
Concerns were also raised about other groups. Reports were received that in some cases Roma have been treated differently due to deep-seated prejudices against them, affecting opportunities to access housing, assistance and other facilities. Similar concerns have been raised, for example, in relation to persons of African descent. LGBTI people, older persons and persons with disabilities were also identified as particularly vulnerable. Many of them require more proactive assistance and orientation in seeking protection.
* The missions in Poland, the Slovak Republic, Hungary and Romania comprised visits by staff of the Commissioner’s Office to numerous border crossing posts ( Hrebenne, Korczowa and Medyka in Poland, Vyšné Nemecké, Veľké Slemence and Ubľa in the Slovak Republic, Beregsurány, Záhony, Tiszabecs and Csengersima - the latter a crossing point with Romania - in Hungary, and Sighetu Marmatiei in Romania), places where people received initial assistance, were registered or were hosted for slightly longer periods, and places for onward transport such as bus and train stations. The Commissioner’s staff met with people fleeing from Ukraine, local and regional officials, Ombudsman institutions and national human rights institutions, international organisations, non-governmental organisations and individuals volunteering in the above mentioned places. On her visit to Bratislava and Prague, the Commissioner met, in addition to many of the groups already highlighted above, with the Slovak Minister of Interior, Roman Mikulec, the Slovak State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, Ingrid Brocková, as well as the Czech First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Vít Rakušan, and the Czech Minister Foreign Affairs, Jan Lipavský. She also met the Mayor of Bratislava, Matúš Vallo, and of Prague, Zdeněk Hřib.