One of the government’s principal humanitarian tasks during wartime is taking care of internally displaced persons (IDPs). This term refers to people who stay within state borders but are forced to leave the territory of their residence. According to the latest estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are more than 190,000 IDPs – nearly 174,000 from the Donbas region and 15,700 IDPs from annexed Crimea – in Ukraine(Data on refugees and person who asked for additinal protection in Russia and EU you may find on www.unhcr.org.ua). The following are some key features of how our society and government is tackling the situation, and what should be done instead.
The situation with IDPs is peculiar for what we call state failure, with the role of civil society organizations and other initiatives being bigger than those of government institutions. Non-profit groups have had to step in as government institutions lack the capacity to deal with the extraordinary situation.
After the EuroMaidan Revolution, many effective networks of civil society activists have emerged. The experience gained during the winter clashes is now being applied in a new context. Initiatives like Krym_SOS, Vostok_SOS, Ноuse of Friends, Free People Employment Center, as well as the IDP Help Coordination Center and others have helped transport IDPs, find them temporary settlement, jobs and legal assistance.
In the short term, these initiatives are immensely helpful. They solve temporary shelter problems, allow for information sharing and human rights protection, but the Ukrainian government has to play a bigger role creating long-term programs for their safe return and integration. How this role of government institutions would be regained is a question of appropriate legislation and more institutional thinking.
The adoption of the plainly inefficient IDP law has evoked disaffection of human rights activists. The law passed on July 19 and contained neither a mechanism of human rights protection nor the financial sources to ensure the basic rights of IDPs are protected. Owing to public pressure, the president vetoed the bill.
Actually the president’s office will introduce new legislation which has good chances to live up to the public’s expectations. If the law passes, the Ministry of Social Policy will be charged with protecting the rights and liberties of IDPs.
This law complies with all international human rights norms and standards. Its preamble affirms the universal character of the law. It means that it doesn't have any time or space limits and can be applied beyond the conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. It clearly defines all procedural issues of obtaining IDP status, and distinguishes the field of responsibility of local executive governments. The law provides solutions for all top-priority problems.
Foremost, IDPs require a reinstatement of their legal status. Besides receiving IDP status, a facilitated procedure is provided for those who need to draw up any lost papers, to dissolve a contract, to retire or to close a sole proprietorship.
Among civil and political rights, only voting rights are mentioned, obviously because of clear orientation towards protecting socio-economic rights. The government acknowledges that the rights of all IDPs are guaranteed by actual Ukrainian legislation and provides few benefits such as unemployment benefits and access to higher education.
Particular attention is paid to housing and employment. Local authorities provide temporary and permanent housing, facilitate the return and transportation of property. IDPs have the right to unemployment benefits, job placement and retraining.
The law provides that state programs can be elaborated to guarantee the special social and economic needs of IDPs.
However, experts are inclined to think that some kind of deep integration program should be adopted by the government. Very often IDPs suffer from vulnerability and discrimination. Today the tension between locals and IDPs is growing rapidly because of the negative image we see in the media, especially how IDPs from Donbas are depicted. Very often they are shown as lazy and rude people who hate Ukraine and only think how to profit from hospitality and kindness.
Article 14 stipulates that the government should allocate resources to ensure human rights guarantees of IDPs. Using mechanisms and the authority provided by the law, the government has the possibility to protect IDPs and ensure their basic rights but there is still a risk that the law will not be passed.
The question of rehabilitation is much more complex and is linked to the postwar reconstruction of Donbas region. Successful reforms can transform Donbas from a depressive region into a locomotive of Ukraine’s economy. It must be seen as a chance to build a postindustrial economy, implement innovation and modernize infrastructure. It will let us re-orientate Donbas industry to global markets and give an impetus for deep economic reforms. Only then can we overcome social problems, mutual hatred, forget war and unite the country.