Without international solidarity, Ukraine’s displacement crisis could turn into a disaster

A mother waits with her family before boarding a train from Lvov in western Ukraine to Poland on March 10. Two days earlier, they had left their home in Kharkiv due to power and water cuts. © UNHCR/Valerio Musella

Since February 24, millions of people have experienced the horror of the war in Ukraine. In one month, many civilians died, thousands were injured. Families broke up. Without an immediate cessation of hostilities, this untold suffering and massive displacement of people will only get worse.

More than 10 million people, almost a quarter of Ukraine’s population, were forced to leave their homes. Some 3.7 million refugees have been forced to leave the country, making it the fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II. In addition, 6.5 million people have been displaced within Ukraine’s borders, and at least 13 million people are believed to be stuck in the affected areas or unable to leave due to the heightened risk to their lives. lack of resources or information on where to find safety and housing.

Behind these figures lies unimaginable suffering, which is only intensifying as humanitarian needs grow. Intense fighting continues to result in large-scale population displacement, exacerbating the situation of internally displaced persons or those unable to leave the most affected areas.

Homes, schools, hospitals, life support services and other civilian infrastructure were destroyed, forcing some people to drink rainwater or water from melting snow. This destruction also caused disruptions in food and medical supplies. Inside Ukraine, the creation of safe corridors and adequate security guarantees for the evacuation of the civilian population remains an urgent issue. Delivering life-saving aid remains dangerous and difficult.

UNHCR has been in Ukraine for 30 years and we are not leaving. When and where possible, together and in coordination with other UN agencies, the ICRC and NGOs, we continue to support the efforts of the Ukrainian authorities by providing temporary housing, cash assistance, basic necessities – blankets, hygiene kits, cots and sleeping bags. – and providing other necessary services to people who have fled. We take part in humanitarian convoys for people living in hard-to-reach areas and will continue to do so.

Outside of Ukraine, we have strengthened all our teams and stepped up our humanitarian assistance to support the governments of countries hosting refugees from Ukraine in providing the necessary humanitarian assistance and protection, and to help the authorities improve their ability to accept newcomers. The warm and well-organized reception of Ukrainian refugees was exceptional and deserves recognition and gratitude.

However, UNHCR has reported risks to the protection of certain groups of people fleeing Ukraine, which is of great concern to us. It is critical to take action to rapidly identify, mitigate and respond to the risks of gender-based violence, exploitation, abuse and trafficking of women and girls. We also recognize that unaccompanied and separated children, as well as LGBTIQ+, older and disabled refugees have special needs and may face high protection risks. Thousands of third-country nationals fled the war along with the citizens of Ukraine. Some of them are in need of international protection or are at risk of statelessness. Many have sought refuge or returned to their countries, but there are persistent reports of unequal or discriminatory treatment.

A single instance of racism or discrimination preventing someone from fleeing violence or accessing shelter and security procedures is too much. We will continue to work with the authorities of Ukraine and neighboring countries to ensure that all those fleeing the violence and tragedy of war in Ukraine enjoy the same security and protection.

I am grateful to the neighboring countries that have kept their borders open and welcome the unprecedented decision of the European Union to provide temporary protection. I was also touched by the extraordinary compassion shown by local actors and people of good will around the world who are helping people fleeing conflict by providing them with shelter, transportation, food, and material and monetary donations. This support and solidarity shown by states and citizens in Europe and around the world is incredibly encouraging.

This level of solidarity should serve as an example for all refugee crises. Even as the Ukrainian crisis escalates, we must not forget the millions of other children, women and men displaced by conflict, persecution, violence and human rights violations. In many other parts of the world—far too many—the devastation of millions of innocent people is no less real and no less brutal. The right to seek and receive asylum is universal. It is not determined by skin color, age, gender, beliefs, or place of birth. Respect for the rights of refugees is not subject to interpretation or discussion.

This crisis is challenging us. The possibilities of neighboring countries to receive refugees have already been exhausted. The protracted conflict characterized by the gross disregard for international humanitarian law that we witnessed last month could lead to death, terror and the displacement of millions more people. The only way to resolve this crisis is to end the war. But as the number of people fleeing continues to grow, they and their hosts need and deserve our support. More will be needed – for states, refugees and local communities – and I urge the international community to deliver.

The war in Ukraine brought great suffering, but also inspired courage, generosity and compassion. Ensuring continued support for its innocent victims is vital if we are to prevent this crisis from turning into a catastrophe.

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