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Expert Opinion

IDP registration in Ukraine: Who’s in? Who’s out? And who’s counting?

The Ukrainian government has developed and implemented several initiatives to improve support for IDPs and provide conditions for humanitarians to deliver assistance. These include a resolution establishing a unified registration system of IDPs and a national IDP law. However, implementation is challenged by the lack of a common definition of an IDP and insufficient government capacity.

IDP registration during the initial crisis

When clashes began in spring 2014, government agencies, such as the State Emergency Services (SES) and the Ministry of Social Policy (MoSP) tracked the number of individuals who requested government assistance, or by those who had a propiska, internal passport, with an address listed in one of the conflict or annexed areas. But as the security situation deteriorated, so did the effectiveness of this method.

On 11 June 2014, after the establishment of a humanitarian corridor which led to an influx of IDPs from the Donbas region (in the east of the country bordering Russia), the Cabinet of Ministers approved an action plan that allowed the SES to begin registration.  They set up centres at key transit points and sent compiled data to the State Migration Service. This was the first official IDP registration.

A unified registration system is put in place

The initial registration process put in place at the start of the crisis lacked a unified system and was run by emergency responders. In October 2014 the Cabinet of Ministers adopted Resolution 509 which established a unified registration system, operated by the MoSP, and delegated registration and benefit payments to district and city social service departments.

Through the Resolution, IDPs are entitled to government assistance, pensions, and free housing for a period of up to six months with the possibility of extension.

This system has been successful in identifying the scale and scope of the needs of IDPs in the country, but importantly gives them legal recognition through which they can access state support.  Despite this, many challenges remain.

Challenges to registration

Despite the above progress, Ukraine’s IDP figure of 1,150,700 remains a rough estimate as not all are registering. Some IDPs do not register because they do not require benefits and are able to live off savings, while some men over 18 do not register in order to avoid conscription.   

Many are unable to register due to technical reasons, such as not having a government issued ID while others have been turned away due to the lack of capacity of the MoSP to process applications. Around 6,000 displaced Roma are not registered as they lack residency papers. Other barriers include fleeing from an area that is not yet recognised as being a non-government controlled area.

Further to this, inconsistent definitions under the IDP law and Resolution 509 have caused confusion about who can register and receive assistance. The national law defines an IDP as a “citizen or permanent resident of Ukraine who was forced to flee due to conflict, temporary occupation, generalised violence or mass human rights violations”. Under Resolution 509 an IDP also includes foreigners and stateless persons permanently residing in Ukraine but displaced from non-government controlled areas. 

In practice, Resolution 509’s definition seems to be preferred but its criterion has resulted in some IDPs not being able to register. This is because they either fled pre-emptively while their village was still under government control, or the territory from which they were fleeing was not fully recognized as part of the non-government controlled areas, such as in the early days of the assault on Debaltseve. 

Moving forward

The number of registered IDPs is likely to continue to increase despite a decrease in hostilities. As people’s private savings dwindle, they will soon need to rely on government benefits to support themselves, and as the MoSP catches up on delayed registrations due to capacity shortages so will IDP numbers.

It is imperative that one definition of who constitutes as internally displaced is adopted for the now massive population of displaced people in Ukraine. The varying terminology creates barriers and additional hardships for many people that require humanitarian assistance, and could lead to inconsistencies in terms of who receives what, which will only become more pressing the more in need displaced people become.