UMITED NATIONS : The United Nations refugee agency estimated Tuesday that 10,000 people, most ethnic Tatars, but also Ukrainians, Russians and mixed families, have fled Crimea and restive eastern Ukraine to other parts of the country, out of fear of insecurity or persecution.
(The 300,000-strong Tatars Muslim minority makes up less than 15 percent of Crimea’s population of 2 million and has so far been overwhelmingly opposed to Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.
(The Russian move to annex Crimea followed an earlier vote in March on the peninsula’s future. The referendum, approved by 96 percent, was followed by several steps from pro-Moscow Crimean parliament, issuing a law that allows Russia’s annexation of the disputed peninsula).
“Displacement in Ukraine started before the March referendum in Crimea and has been rising gradually since. Registration numbers are being compiled on the basis of data we are receiving from local authorities,” Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said at a press briefing in Geneva, according to news release issued at UN Headquarters in New York.
“Among the affected population are people who have been displaced twice - first from Crimea, and then again from the eastern part of the country,” Edwards added, noting that at least a third of the displaced are children.
He said that a needs assessment has recently been completed and UNHCR is working closely with local authorities, other UN agencies and NGO partners to assist those affected. So far, this includes legal assistance, integration grants for 150 families, cash assistance for 2000 people and improved shelters for 50 families.
He said that most displaced families have gone to central (45 per cent) and western Ukraine (26 per cent), though some are also in the southern and eastern regions. The number of Ukrainian asylum-seekers in other countries has remained low.
Many of those interviewed said they left either because of direct threats or out of fear of insecurity or persecution, Edwards said.
“Some report having received personal threats over the phone, via social media, or finding threatening messages left on their property,” he reported.
“People cite fear of persecution because of ethnicity or religious beliefs, or in the cases of journalists, human rights activists and among intellectuals due to their activities or professions. Others say they could no longer keep their businesses open,” he added.
A United Nations report released last Friday documents an “alarming” deterioration of the human rights situation in eastern Ukraine, along with serious problems emerging in Crimea.
At Tuesday’s briefing, Edwards said that people are being accommodated in shelters provided by local authorities, or staying in privately owned spaces, such us sanatoriums or hotels. Others are being hosted in private homes. “However the capacity of host communities to support people is fast becoming exhausted,” he warned.
Pressing needs include permanent shelter, employment opportunities, and support for community-based and local organizations in developing long-term solutions for the displaced families, he said.