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Ukraine: Remarks by IOM Director General, António Vitorino, at the UN Security Council
New York – Thank you so much Madame President, and thank you for giving IOM the opportunity to speak to you today.
As it has just been said by Kelly, more than 12 million Ukrainians and third-country nationals have already been forced to leave their homes since the beginning of this war.
About 5 million people have fled the country, according to the data collected by UNHCR. Another 7.1 million people are displaced inside Ukraine, according to the latest assessment by IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix.
Through our displacement tool, I hope that, by the end of this week, I can provide you with an update of the overall figures concerning new displacements, secondary movements, stranded populations as well as the increasing numbers of returns to Ukraine and inside the country returning to their regions of origin.
We remain deeply concerned about the continued deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Ukraine as we anticipate an increase in displacements, internal as well as external.
Therefore, I appeal to parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians, their homes, and civilian infrastructure.
When I recently visited some of the concerned neighboring countries, I saw first-hand the price that civilians are paying for this conflict: Women and children, the elderly, and people with disabilities have been disproportionately affected as they all represent a highly vulnerable group of people.
From our assessments and work with all UN Agencies in Ukraine and our NGO partners, we have identified specific risks for internally displaced people, refugees and third-country nationals, and I would like to highlight a few of them to you today:
First, in situations of mass displacement, one can expect up to 30 per cent of the population to experience some form of negative psychological impact and mental health problems.
However, as the war continues and intensifies, psychosocial needs will undoubtedly further increase. We are scaling up our efforts to address them in Ukraine and in neighboring countries through activities ranging from training first-line responders in psychosocial first aid to increasing the capacity of our established hotlines that provide psychosocial support.
For that purpose, we are benefitting from the mobilization of the Ukrainian diaspora worldwide.
Second, we remain particularly concerned about the situation of women and children who have fled Ukraine or who are internally displaced. Trafficking in persons was, unfortunately, a known phenomenon in the region, and as observed in past crises, large-scale displacement, family separation, and disruption of civil protection and community networks render populations vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and abuse.
Therefore, I think that it is of utmost concern that gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, has been reported in increasing numbers. Setting referral mechanisms and developing close cooperation with law enforcement agencies is essential to prevent the operation of criminal networks, of trafficking and abuses.
We know that more than half of the children in Ukraine have been displaced.
Unaccompanied or separated children are particularly vulnerable and measures to protect them must be strengthened. I urge the neighboring and impacted countries to ensure the immediate identification and registration of unaccompanied and separated children fleeing from Ukraine is done. Effective international cooperation is required urgently to reunite children with their caregivers and families.
Third, we applaud all of Ukraine’s neighboring countries for the solidarity and openness they have shown, and the enormous efforts undertaken by their governments, civil society organizations and private individuals to support arriving Ukrainians and more than 218,000 third-country nationals.
Despite the overwhelmingly positive response, we have unfortunately witnessed cases of discrimination, violence and xenophobia against third-country nationals fleeing Ukraine. Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality or migration status, in my view, is not acceptable.
I call on all states to ensure that protection and immediate assistance is provided in a non-discriminatory manner, particularly in border crossing points.
From our side, we have set up information and support hotlines for affected populations in Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, and Slovakia, and have established a referral mechanism to facilitate contact between third-country nationals and relevant consulates, and to ensure safe, dignified, and non-discriminatory support, information sharing and advice, transportation and medical assistance and support to return to their countries of origin.
We see now that internally displaced people tend to move to urban areas in search of possible employment opportunities and social services. There will be an urgent need to scale up the services and the assistance to meet the needs of an increased population in these areas as we are doing in close cooperation with the Social Policy Ministry of the Ukrainian Government. Of particular concern is the situation in the East of Ukraine in terms of access to food and water.
Since the start of the response to the crisis, we have all identified cash-based interventions as one of the most feasible, efficient and effective ways to reach people in need both inside Ukraine and in the neighboring countries.
IOM has already started providing multi-purpose cash assistance in Ukraine and in some of the neighboring countries, and as Kelly has just mentioned to you, preparations are ongoing to scale up this assistance in close coordination with UNHCR and WFP, and with the Government of Ukraine and the local authorities – but funding for this purpose is badly needed indeed.
Moving forward, it is necessary that we seek to better understand the intentions of those who are fleeing, those forced to leave their homes, and those who have been separated from their families due to the ongoing conflict.
Many – particularly in neighboring countries – are willing to return to Ukraine as soon as possible, but of course, return must be safe. We are working with the Government and local authorities concerning, above all, those internally displaced in order to support the identification of stable and safe solutions.
For those who have left the country, it is crucial to plan ahead and invest in order to ensure that all have access to adequate support and services, and to facilitate their full inclusion in educational and health systems, into the labor market, and to provide language opportunities, social housing and other needed support.
We welcome the decision by the European Union to offer temporary protection to those fleeing Ukraine and I reiterate our readiness to support with implementing the Directive.
Let me just conclude by reiterating our commitment to stay and deliver in Ukraine and in the neighbouring countries, to support and to provide assistance to Ukrainians and third-country nationals that are so severely impacted by the war, and I will just add that I want to reiterate and strongly echo the Secretary-General’s repeated calls for an urgent, very urgent, humanitarian ceasefire and for above all, for peace. Yes, for peace.
I thank you, Madame President.