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Published in Stream:
Ukraine Live Day 583
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Will The Middle Eastern Refugee Crisis Impact Ukraine?
5 years
Ukrainian Authorities Arrest Former Sevastopol Councillor Who Supported Russian Annexation

Europe's biggest story in the last two months has been the massive influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, most of whom are fleeing war in Syria or Afghanistan. The crisis has even gotten to the point that upon return to the United States last week after a trip to Ukraine, the American Customs agent processing my re-entry mostly wanted to know if Ukraine was also being impacted by the wave of refugees.

The short answer is no -- Ukraine is far away from the route that most of these new refugees are taking through Central European countries like Croatia, Austria, and Hungary. And while the Black Sea may look relatively small on a globe, it's nearly 300 miles of open water between Turkey and mainland Ukraine (and over 170 miles between Turkey and Russian-controlled Crimea). Besides this, Ukraine has been exporting its own refugees to Europe. According to the latest assessment by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, released February 2015, 731,422 people had been internally displaced by the conflict in the Donbass and the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia. There are newer estimates that 1.2 million Ukrainians are internally displaced, and on September 14 the Ukrainian Social Policy Ministry reported that more than 1.4 million IDPs, more than 1.1 million families, were at least temporarily displaced by violence in Donbass and Crimea. It's not clear how many refugees have fled Ukraine entirely, either to Europe or to Russia. Clearly, however, Ukraine is already struggling to house and employee internally-displaced persons, so it's no surprise that it's not a central hub for foreign refugees.

Such is the magnitude of the refugee crisis in the Middle East, however, that this could be changing. Kyiv Post reports that Ukraine has actually already settled more than 300 Syrian refugees in the last year:

Nevertheless, "an influx of migrants from abroad is not expected in Ukraine due to the unstable economic situation and the huge number of internal displaced people from Crimea and Donbas,” Serhiy Gunyak, a spokesman for the State Migration Service, told the Kyiv Post.

Those Syrians who chose to seek refuge in Ukraine faced similar problems to their compatriots who travelled west and north.

“Migrants aren’t rushing here, because it’s difficult to get in Ukraine,” Ali Ashura, a member of the Syrian community in Odesa, told the Kyiv Post.

“There is no instant access to Ukrainian borders, like in Turkey or Greece for example. What is more, it’s rather difficult for Syrians even to get a tourist visa here,” Ashura said.

More than 300 Syrians get refugee status in Ukraine in 2014-2015

In recent weeks a flood of refugees from Syria has threatened to swamp the European Union and wreck the Schengen Zone system of free movement among EU countries. While most of the refugees head for wealthy northern European countries like Germany and Sweden, Ukraine has been taking in a small number as well - a little more than 300 in the last year.

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Sep 23, 2015 19:11 (GMT)
There have even been suggestions that Syrian refugees who have been hitting geographical or political roadblocks in Central Europe could pass from Bulgaria to Romania, on to western Ukraine and from there into Poland:

But it's probably still too early to expect Ukraine to become a major hub for these refugees. Just last month Polish president Andrzej Duda warned that his country could be overwhelmed by a possible wave of Ukrainian refugees if the conflict in the east were to escalate or the winter was particularly harsh. Those fears may be alleviated by the ongoing ceasefire which is at least somewhat holding, but the current dynamics in Ukraine are unlikely to make it a permanent home for large numbers of refugees.

Furthermore, at least for now, there is no evidence that large numbers of refugees are using Ukraine to move into wealthier European countries. But if the last month has taught us anything it's that the situations in places like Syria are so horrendous that refugees are willing to go great lengths to find a better life.

-- James Miller