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Human Rights Watch open letter to Ukraine re Somali detainees

February 6, 2012

Now here is an interesting letter to those in government and the presidential administration relating to the plight of 125 Somali refugees detained in Ukraine.

Why would a Somali choose Ukraine?  Well of course they wouldn’t.  They will have been detained en route to the EU or bounced back to Ukraine by the EU under the readmission agreement when found illegally in the EU having entered via Ukraine.  In effect leaving Ukraine with people it cannot deport back to Somalia for obviously reasons and people it cannot move on either.

Adding to the complication is the human rights law that Ukraine passed in 2011, “Refugees and Persons in need of Complementary or Temporary Protection” designed to give some form of legal framework to deal with those caught illegally in Ukraine but cannot be deported to their home nations due to the dangers they would face if they were, but also do not have the intention of claiming refugee status in Ukraine and were simply transiting the country to greener pastures until detained.

Many then ultimately try to claim asylum in Ukraine as a next best option to the EU and certainly a better option to Somalia.  You can see their point of course.  Ukraine may not be paradise but it is certainly a long way from being the hell that is Somalia.

As the UK, Greece and many others have discovered, once you have them, you have them.  There is no moving them on or bouncing them back to Somalia either.

The question is what is Ukraine to do with them?

Thus far it has taken a Greek approach and worked within the existing national human rights laws of Ukraine.  Detention for 12 months (hoping the Somalian situation improves so deportation will be possible) and then releasing them as that is the maximum period of detention foreseen by the applicable Ukrainian laws.

Once released they have 5 days to obtain appropriate documents to remain in Ukraine, illegally enter another nation, or eventually they are rearrested and detained for a further 12 months (again hoping the situation in Somalia will improve to the point where they can be deported).

They can of course try an claim asylum in Ukraine, as they have tried to do in many other nations.  More often than not it will be refused as in many other nations (see UK and Greece cited in the letter) by national courts.

Quite obviously very few governments want to become home to Somalian refugees or become seen as the nation that all will head for by granting asylum easily.  Very few national governments also want to willingly put Somalis in grievous danger  by returning them to Somalia either.  By the same token, very few governments want Somalis wandering around their nation should the situation in Somalia eventually improve to allow for deportation back to Somalia.

Allowing the Somalis to freely roam Ukraine and repeatedly try and enter the EU does Ukraine no favours when Ukraine is seeking Visa-free travel with the EU.  An inability to control its border with the EU would not help that process at all.  Should the Ukrainian population’s aspirations for Visa-free travel with the EU be jeoparised by allowing illegal entrants into Ukraine the opportunity to try and cross the border into the EU, thus becoming a negative statistic when assessments are made?

The situation is made far more difficult as Somalia doesn’t have an Embassy or Consulate in Ukraine allowing regular communication and discussion of how to solve the problem in general or individual human rights issues/claims.

Ukraine, as a nation that has a functioning but severely stretched and underfunded social support system, is highly unlikely to want to add numbers to care for to that system on an open ended time-line,  simply because they illegally entered Ukraine and cannot be sent home in good conscience.

All that said, Ukraine has international and humanitarian obligations.  No detained Somali should be subjected unnecessarily to physical abuse.  Abuse though takes many forms and the seemingly never ending cycle of 12 months detention, 5 days of freedom, followed by another 12 months of detention could be perceived as psychological abuse and/or abuse of the legislative system.  If so, Ukraine is not unique in this regard as the HRW letter states.

Something of a dilemma for the Ukrainian authorities, particularly having deliberately made the humanitarian step of plugging a legislative gap last year.

4 comments

  1. Ukrainian authorities should do what they can to improve the country’s flawed asylum system and close existing gaps in protection. Taking immediate steps to stop abuse in detention and facilitate adequate solutions for Somali migrants, asylum seekers and refugees would be a step in the right direction


  2. Allowing the Somalis to freely roam, and give them chanice to go back their home, somalia.


  3. very sad situations, should not do Ukrain that, give the people freedom, and they look after the people,


  4. […] the centre of nationalist feelings is not the best place for Somali asylum seekers detention centres in […]



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