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Nation Building and Refugee Protection
in the Post-Soviet Region
Oxana Shevel
208
The fall of communism opened the newly independent states of the former
Soviet Union to global migration and refugee flows. By the end of the
1990s, the former Soviet states hosted 3.4 million refugees and other dis-
placed persons—38 percent of Europe’s and 15 percent of the world’s to-
tal.
1
The challenge of refugee protection was daunting for the post-Soviet
countries. The USSR was a refugee-producing, not a refugee-receiving,
state, and the Soviet successor states had no legislative legacy or domestic
expertise to deal with the refugee problem.
2
As the post-Soviet states began
to create refugee policies and institutions, they all received similar cues
from the international community. Since 1992, the Office of the United Na-
tions High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a UN refugee agency
mandated to supervise the application of the international refugee law and
to promote a nondiscriminatory refugee policy, has been working on the
ground in the post-Soviet region to affect emerging refugee regimes. De-
spite similar international pressures, however, a decade after they first en-
countered similar refugee problems, post-Soviet states exhibit varying re-
In Dominique Arel and Blair Ruble, eds., "Rebounding
Identities: The Politics of Identity in Russia and
Ukraine" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006):
208-240.
ceptivity to refugees. This chapter explores the causes of this variation
through a comparison of Russia and Ukraine.
Russia and Ukraine are major refugee-receiving states in the post-Soviet
region. By the end of the 1990s, they were hosting more displaced persons
than any Western European country except Germany.
3
The two states are
similar economically and in their democratic development, and, since 1991,
they have faced refugee problems of a similar nature and magnitude. These
similarities might lead one to expect similar refugee policies, but in fact these
states have adopted rather different policies. Among interesting empirical
puzzles is a receptive policy toward former Soviet citizens, in particular to-
ward co-ethnics, in Russia but not in Ukraine, and a more generous policy
toward refugees from the developing world in Ukraine than in Russia.
These puzzles raise more general questions. Why do some post-Soviet
states accept refugees more readily than others? Why do some states privi-
lege certain refugee groups (in particular co-ethnics of the titular national-
ity) while others do not? This chapter argues that to answer these questions,
we have to understand how the politics of nation building and the strategies
of international institutions act as the main sources of post-Soviet refugee
policies and systematically lead to different policy outcomes.
The governing elites in new states such as the former Soviet republics
have to answer the all-important question: Who belongs to the nation (and
thus constitutes “us”) and who does not (and thus constitutes the “other”)?
Contestation over this question is the politics of nation building. As Arel
emphasized in the introductory chapter, the construction of categories of
identity is a political, not a teleological, process and is it often highly con-
tested. This chapter first compares the contestation over the definition of the
nation in Russia and Ukraine, and it then focuses on the consequences of
this contestation for policies toward different groups of refugees. As we will
see, the politics of nation building in Russia and Ukraine did not simply
amount to defining co-ethnics of the titular group as “us” and the rest as
“other.” Reflecting historical, cultural, and political legacies, different “im-
ages” of the nation were on the political menu, each resonating with differ-
ent segments of the society and different elite groups. The nature and in-
tensity of contestation over the national question mandated a more or less
receptive policy toward different refugee groups. The politics of nation
building thus determined which refugee groups were (or were not) to be
assisted by the state. This reality presented a challenge to international
refugee-assisting institutions that lobbied for a receptive and a nondiscrim-
inatory refugee policy.
Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region 209
International refugee-assisting organizations such as the UNHCR ini-
tially approached the post-Soviet region exclusively through the prism of
international refugee law, assisting only those refugees who fit the inter-
national legal definition of a refugee. The evidence from Russia and
Ukraine is a testament to the potential of international actors to promote
policies reflecting international human rights standards, but only when
these actors are aware that in different domestic contexts the meaning of the
same category (e.g., “refugee”) can be different, and when they are prepared
to adjust their strategies to take into account constraints and opportunities
created by the domestic politics of refugee policy.
Similar Problem, Varying Response: The Refugee
Problem and Refugee Policy in Russia and Ukraine
The 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Pro-
tocol define a refugee as someone who has crossed an international border;
who is not a citizen of the state where he or she is seeking refuge; and who
fled due to a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, re-
ligion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opin-
ion.”
4
A refugee, under international law (I will use the term “traditional
refugee” throughout the chapter), is thus an international migrant who has
fled political, religious, ethnic, racial, or social persecution; who has crossed
an international border; and who is not a citizen of the host state. In Western
states, virtually all refugees are traditional refugees: foreigners who have
crossed an international border and are not citizens of the state where they
are seeking asylum. The refugee problem in the West is thus amenable to,
and can be analyzed within, the framework of international refugee law. In
the post-Soviet context of state collapse and state formation, however, the
refugee problem has turned out to be much more complex.
Although there is a sizable number of “traditional” refugees in both Rus-
sia and Ukraine, they are only a small part of the refugee problem in these
states. Traditional refugees in Russia and Ukraine are asylum seekers from
developing countries, most of them Afghans. Thus, in Russia from 1992 to
1998, the UNHCR reception center registered some 35,500 asylum seekers
from 52 non–Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, 70
percent of them Afghans.
5
Between 1996 and the middle of 2000, asylum
seekers from more than forty countries applied for refugee status in
Ukraine,
6
with Afghans being the majority of applicants for refugee status
210
OXANA SHEVEL
each year.
7
Though most of the developing-world asylum seekers found
themselves in Russia and Ukraine because they were not able to reach des-
tinations further west, most Afghans have been in the USSR since the Soviet
era, and as a result, a plurality of Afghans wants to remain in Russia and
Ukraine rather than to move further west.
8
Although traditional refugees are numerous, the refugee problem in the
post-Soviet region in general, and in Russia and Ukraine in particular, is de-
fined by the predominance of nontraditional refugees. Nontraditional refugees
do not fit the refugee definition found in international law either because they
did not cross an international border and/or because they are entitled to citi-
zenship of the state where they seek refuge. However, they have usually fled
for reasons similar to those of refugees—fearing ethnic, political, or religious
persecution. In Russia and Ukraine, for example, as of 1999, 94 and 98 per-
cent of the displaced persons, respectively, were nontraditional refugees.
9
In the post-Soviet region, nontraditional refugees are a product of the
“ethnic unmixing” that began on the territory of the former Soviet Union in
the late 1980s.
10
When the Soviet Union fell apart, as many as 70 million
people lived outside their “ethnic homelands.”
11
The rise of nationalism in
the Soviet republics, the ethnic conflicts of the late 1980s, and the disinte-
gration of the Soviet Union in 1991 sent waves of former Soviet citizens,
suddenly national minorities in the republics where they lived, to their “eth-
nic homelands.”
12
Although “ethnic unmixing” has affected all nationali-
ties of the former USSR, the outflow of Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians, and
Belarusians) from the non-Slavic republics has been particularly signifi-
cant. Russia and Ukraine, the two largest Slavic republics of the former
USSR, have become the main destination countries for these migrants. As
table 7.1 shows, among the former Soviet citizens who moved to Russia in
the 1990s, approximately 60 percent were ethnic Russians; among migrants
to Ukraine over the same period, 43 percent were ethnic Ukrainians.
The predominance of nontraditional refugees, many of them co-ethnics,
raised a question that would be totally out of place in the Western context:
Are refugees foreigners or members of the nation? In Russia and Ukraine,
this is a highly ambiguous and a highly political question. Most nontradi-
tional refugees in both states are either co-ethnics of the titular group and/or
eligible for citizenship under the terms of the initial citizenship laws.
13
Inclusive citizenship laws adopted in Russia and Ukraine in the early
1990s made most nontraditional refugees, including co-ethnics of the titu-
lar group, ineligible for an international legal definition of refugee.
14
This
was an unforeseen and an unintended consequence. When initial citizenship
Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region 211
Table 7.1. Post-Soviet Migration to Russia and Ukraine, 1992–2002
Russia Migrants Ukraine Migrants
Population Total Percent of “Ethnic Kin” as Population Total Percent of “Ethnic Kin” as
Year (thousands) (thousands) Population Percent of Migrants (thousands) (thousands) Population Percent of Migrants
1992 148,704 925.7 0.6 66 52,100 504.6 1.0 46
1993 148,673 922.9 0.6 65 52,200 323.0 0.6 45
1994 148,366 1,146.4 0.8 63 52,100 178.0 0.3 42
1995 148,306 841.5 0.6 61 51,700 159.9 0.3 42
1996 147,976 631.2 0.4 58 51,300 123.8 0.2 43
1997 147,502 582.8 0.4 59 50,900 102.6 0.2 43
1998 147,105 494.8 0.3 59 50,500 66.8 0.1 42
1999 146,693 366.6 0.2 55 50,100 61.6 0.1 41
2000 145,925 350.3 0.2 54 48,900 49.7 0.1 43
2001 144,368 193.5 0.1 57 48,500 41.0 0.1 44
2002 145,182 184.6 0.1 53 48,000 36.3 0.1 42
Sources: For population data for Russia: 1992–2000, Goskomstat Rossii, Rossiiskii statisticheskii iezhegodnik. Statisticheskii sbornik (Moscow: Goskomstat
Rossii, 2000), 53; for 2001, Goskomstat Rossii, Chislennost i migratsiia naseleniia Rossiiskoi Federatsii v 2001 godu (Moscow: Goskomstat Rossii, 2002), 8;
for 2002, Goskomstat Rossii, Chislennost i migratsiia naseleniia Rossiiskoi Federatsii v 2002 godu (Moscow: Goskomstat Rossii, 2003), 9. For population data
for Ukraine, for 1992–99, Derzhavnyi komitet statystyky Ukrainy, Statystychnyi shchorichnyk Ukrainy za 1998 rik (Kyiv: Tekhnika, 1999), 327; for 2000–2,
“Richna statystychna informatsia: Naselennia,” http://www.ukrstat.gov.ua/richna/richna.html. For migration data for Russia for 1992–99, Goskomstat Rossii,
Rossiiskii statisticheskii iezhegodnik: Statisticheskii sbornik (Moscow: Goskomstat Rossii, 1999), 101; for 2000, Goskomstat Rossii, Chislennost i mihratsiia
naseleniia Rossiiskoi Federatsii v 2000 godu (Moscow: Goskomstat Rossii, 2001), 32; for 2001–2, Goskomstat Rossii, Chislennost i migratsiia naseleniia Rossi-
iskoi Federatsii v 2002 godu, 15. For migration data for Ukraine: for 1991, Olena Malynovska, “Repatriation to Ukraine,” Migration Issues 4, no. 11 (1999):
17–29; for 1992–97, Derzhavnyi Komitet u spravakh natsionalnostei i mihratsii, “Mihratsiina sytuatsiia v Ukraini,” Bizhentsi ta mihratsiia: Ukrainskyi chasopys
prava i polityky 2, nos. 3–4 (1998): 207–21; for 1998, Mykhailo Romaniuk, Mihratsii naselennia Ukrainy za umov perekhidnoi ekonomiky:metodologiia i prak-
tyka rehuliuvannia (L’viv: Vydavnytstvo Svit, 1999), 76; for 1999, Derzhavnyi komitet statystyky Ukrainy, “Rozpodil mihrantiv za natsionalnistiu ta krainamy
v’izdu/vyizdu u 1999 rotsi (Forma M-8),” 1999; for 2000, Derzhavnyi komitet statystyky Ukrainy, “Rozpodil mihrantiv za natsionalnistiu ta krainamy v’izdu/
vyizdu u 2000 rotsi (Forma M-8),” 2000; for 2001, Derzhavnyi komitet statystyky Ukrainy, “Rozpodil mihrantiv za natsionalnistiu ta krainamy v’izdu/vyizdu u
2001 rotsi (Forma M-8),” 2001; for 2002, Derzhavnyi komitet statystyky Ukrainy, “Rozpodil mihrantiv za natsionalnistiu ta krainamy v’izdu/vyizdu u 2002 rotsi
(Forma M-8),” 2002. For ethnic kin data for Russia, for 1992–97, International Organization for Migration, Resettlement of “Refugees” and “Forced Migrants” in
the Russian Federation (Geneva: International Organization for Migration, 1998), 23; for 1998–99, Goskomstat Rossii, Rossiiskii statisticheskii iezhegodnik: Sta-
tisticheskii sbornik, 354; for 2000, Goskomstat Rossii, Chislennost i migratsiia naseleniia Rossiiskoi Federatsii v 2000 godu, 90; for 2001, Goskomstat Rossii,
Chislennost i migratsiia naseleniia Rossiiskoi Federatsii v 2001 godu, 81; for 2002, Goskomstat Rossii, Chislennost i mihratsiia naseleniia Rossiiskoi Federat-
sii v 2002 godu, 76. For ethnic kin data for Ukraine, for 1992–99, Nikolai Shulga, Velikoie pereselenie: Repatrianty, bezhensty, trudovyie migranty (Kyiv: Insti-
tut Sotsiologii NAN Ukrainy, 2002), 80; for 2000–2, from sources for migration data cited above.
laws were adopted in Russia and Ukraine in the late Soviet period, law-
makers had little to no awareness of the international refugee legislation and
the linkage between citizenship status and eligibility for refugee status con-
tained in the international refugee law. A mismatch between the sociopolit-
ical domestic and international legal understanding of who is a refugee (and
thus deserves assistance from the state) was thus created. Whereas interna-
tional law ruled that co-ethnics and other former Soviet migrants for the most
part were not refugees but foreigners from developing-world countries were,
domestically in Russia and Ukraine the perception was exactly the opposite:
Needy former Soviet co-citizens, not foreigners from the developing world,
were considered bezhentsy (refugees), and worthy of state assistance.
15
The above reality makes our empirical puzzle all the more intriguing.
Given the similar nature of the refugee problem in Russia and Ukraine (the
predominance of migrants from the former Soviet republics, most of them
nontraditional refugees and co-ethnics of the titular group), the comparable
magnitude of the refugee problem (relative to the national populations; see
table 7.1), and a similar domestic perception of who is and is not a refugee,
one could expect to see similar refugee admission policies. It would not
have been surprising, for example, if both states proved to be more recep-
tive to the former Soviet refugees than to those from the developing world,
and/or if both privileged co-ethnics of the titular ethnic group over refugees
belonging to the ethnic “other.”
Indeed, this is what happened in Russia. In Russia, the overwhelming
majority of those recognized under the laws “On Refugees” and “On Forced
Migrants” are former Soviet citizens. By the end of 2000, only 450 devel-
oping-world refugees received refugee status (2.1 percent of the total reg-
istered refugees).
16
Former Soviet citizens in Russia also benefited from the
law “On Forced Migrants” adopted in addition to the law “On Refugees.”
The forced migrant law provided for a more generous regime (in terms of
both status acquisition and the social and economic benefits associated with
it) for those in a refugee-like situation who were eligible for Russian citi-
zenship. The majority of those recognized under the law were ethnic Rus-
sians.
17
In Ukraine, conversely, there was neither legislation nor practice
benefiting either ethnic Ukrainians or former Soviet citizens in general. In-
stead, 69 percent of the refugees recognized in the period 1997–2000 in
Ukraine were from developing-world countries (mainly Afghanistan).
18
Why did Russian and Ukrainian refugee policies turned out to be so dif-
ferent? To understand why similar post-Soviet countries responded differ-
ently to a similar refugee problem, we have to understand how the politics
Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region 213
of refugee policy in new states is intertwined with and shaped by the poli-
tics of nation building; how the politics of nation building creates different
constraints and opportunities for the international actors lobbying for a re-
ceptive and nondiscriminatory domestic refugee policy; and how these ac-
tors’ response to the constraints imposed by the politics of nation building
enables or impedes the materialization of a nondiscriminatory domestic
refugee regime.
The Politics of Nation Building and Refugee
Policy in the Post-Soviet Context
The relationship between the refugee problem and the problem of nation
building sets the post-Soviet states apart from Western states. Unlike West-
ern states, which faced the modern refugee problem in the aftermath of
World War II as established nation-states, the post-Soviet states faced the
refugee problem at the same time they faced the challenge of state and na-
tion building. In post–World War II Western Europe, established nation-states
faced flows of foreign refugees. In post–Cold War Eastern Europe, new
states faced a flow of refugees, many of them co-ethnics of the titular group,
as they were still trying to define the boundaries of their nations. This si-
multaneity created an intimate link between the politics of refugee policy
and the politics of nation building.
The politics of nation building in the post-Soviet region is not simply
about treating co-ethnics of the titular group as “us” and the rest as “other.”
In many, if not most, of the newly independent states, the very question who
is “us” is itself a matter of much debate. Scholars of identity, whose work
Arel surveys in the introductory chapter, draw our attention to the fact that
contestation over a category of identity is a multidimensional process, and
that different dimensions of this contestation need to be taken into account
if one hopes to use identity as a variable affecting social and political ac-
tions. The Russian and Ukrainian cases reveal the importance of the degree
of domestic consensus on the question who is “us.”
Certain legal acts, most notably citizenship legislation, define what can
be called the “official” nation of a given state. We can thus determine the
content of the category “nation” from the law.
19
However, without looking
at the debates that preceded the adoption of the legislation, we cannot know
the degree of agreement among main political actors over the official defi-
214
OXANA SHEVEL
nition. The degree of agreement (or of contestation) matters greatly for the
content of refugee policies, as we are about to see.
The Politics of Refugee Policy in Russia
The Russian case demonstrates that when there was a high degree of do-
mestic consensus over the definition of “us,” those who were defined as be-
longing to the nation received preferential treatment in refugee policy. The
Russian case also shows that international actors may be able to liberalize
state policy toward foreign refugees, but only if they are aware of how the
politics of nation building determines domestic politics of refugee policy
and assist refugees who are perceived as belonging to the nation, even if
they do not fit the international legal definition of refugee.
The National Question and Refugee Policy
In Russia, all the main political forces (Communists, nationalists, and lib-
erals) shared the idea that the “true” Russian nation transcends the borders
of the Russian Federation and embraces Russians and “Russian speakers”
in the former Soviet republics.
20
Reflecting this prevalent domestic senti-
ment, the 1991 citizenship law defined the “official” Russian nation to in-
clude all former Soviet citizens by extending the right to Russian citizen-
ship to them.
21
The politics of nation building thus defined Russia’s “us” as
ethnic Russians and the Russian speakers from the former Soviet republics,
and this definition reflected a domestic consensus.
In the refugee policy area, the consensus that Russians and Russian-
speaking migrants from the former Soviet republics are “us” rather than
“other” translated into a unique legal precedent of Russia adopting in Feb-
ruary 1993 two laws to regulate the refugee situation: the law “On Refugees”
and the law “On Forced Migrants.” The forced migrant law applied to those
who were eligible for Russian citizenship (i.e., to the former Soviet citizens
recognized as belonging to the “us”) and was more generous than the
refugee law.
22
The preferential approach to the former Soviet refugees was
also evident in practical applications of the law “On Refugees.” Formally,
anyone who was not a citizen of Russia could apply for refugee status un-
der this law. A citizen of Uzbekistan and a citizen of Somalia, for example,
were to be treated equally under the law. In practice, however, in the first
Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region 215
half of the 1990s, applications from developing-world asylum seekers were
simply not accepted, while arrivals from the former Soviet republics re-
ceived refugee or forced migrant status virtually automatically.
23
As a result, by the end of 1993, there were 447,900 recognized refugees
and forced migrants in Russia, all of whom were former Soviet citizens; none
was from the developing world.
24
At the end of 1994, 702,500 refugees and
forced migrants were officially registered, but only 33 (0.007 percent) of them
were from the developing world. The 33 developing-world refugees recog-
nized in 1994 were less than 0.1 percent of the 85,800 refugees recognized in
Russia that year.
25
By the end of 2002, there were still only 400 recognized
developing-world refugees—3 percent of the 13,800 registered refugees.
26
This refugee policy outcome was predetermined by a strong domestic
sense that the former Soviet citizens are part of the “us,” and thus ought to
be privileged in state policies. Arrivals from the former Soviet republics
were readily recognized as refugees and forced migrants, while the devel-
oping-world refugees remained in legal limbo. The irony was that the de-
veloping-world refugees were “real” refugees (fitting the international le-
gal definition of refugee), whereas most of the post-Soviet migrants were
not. This irony, however, had its logic as a product of the consensual poli-
tics of nation building that defined the priorities of the government policy
toward different groups of refugees.
The politics of nation building can explain why the Russian-speaking mi-
grants from the former Soviet republics were assisted more readily than
refugees from developing-world countries, but it cannot explain the evolu-
tion of Russia’s policy toward developing-world refugees. As table 7.2
shows, the share of developing-world refugees among recognized refugees
increased progressively starting in 1998. Starting in 1999, the majority of
refugees recognized were from developing-world countries rather than the
former Soviet republics.
To be sure, the post-1998 liberalization in Russia’s policy toward devel-
oping-world refugees was not dramatic. In absolute terms, very few appli-
cants are recognized, and since 2000, these numbers have been declining.
Nevertheless, it is a significant change, given that before 1994 no develop-
ing-world refugees were recognized at all. The politics of nation building
did not change much from the first to the second half of the 1990s. Some-
thing else thus has to explain this change in refugee policy. This other fac-
tor, the second key source of post-Soviet refugee policies, is the strategy of
the UNHCR.
216
OXANA SHEVEL
The Role of the UNHCR
Refugee policy formation in the post-Soviet region differs from refugee pol-
icy formation in post–World War II Western Europe in the greater role
played by international actors, specifically by the UNHCR. The UNHCR is
an international humanitarian organization mandated by the UN to promote
the ratification of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees
and its 1967 Protocol (the international legal instruments that set standards
for refugee treatment) and to supervise their application.
27
Although the
UNHCR is a central component of the international refugee regime, refugee
regimes in Western states evolved without the UNHCR. After its establish-
ment in 1951 and until the end of the Cold War, the UNHCR worked mainly
in developing countries, not in Western states.
28
In the post-Soviet region,
however, refugee regimes emerged under the scrutiny of the UNHCR.
The UNHCR has had a permanent local presence in Russia since 1992.
By virtue of its institutional “modus operandi” (operating through a per-
manent local office), it was well positioned to influence domestic refugee
Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region 217
Table 7.2. Refugees Recognized in Russia under the Law “On Refugees,
1994–2002
Former Soviet Union Developing World
Recognized
Given Year Percent Percent
Year (Persons) Persons of Total Persons of Total
1994 85,800 85,700 100.0 30 0.0
1995 46,400 46,350 99.9 50 0.1
1996 19,800 19,720 99.6 80 0.4
1997 5,800 5,690 98.1 110 1.9
1998 500 360 72.0 140 28.0
1999 400 170 42.5 230 57.5
2000 300 140 46.7 160 53.3
2001 130 10 7.7 120 92.3
2002 51 5 9.8 46 90.2
Sources: 1994–96 data for developing-world refugees supplied by the UNHCR Moscow; for 1997,
Federal Migration Service of the Russian Federation, “Chislennost bezhentsev po stranam iskhoda
po sostoianiu na 01.01.98 g.,” 1998; for 1998, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees,
“Number of Refugees by Countries of Origin Recognized by FMS of the Russian Federation (Till
the End of 1998),” 1998; for 1999–2000, Goskomstat Rossii, Chislennost i migratsia naselenia
Rossiiskoi Federatsii v 2000 godu (Moscow: Goskomstat Rossii, 2001), 116; for 2001–2, Goskom-
stat Rossii, Chislennost i migratsia naselenia Rossiiskoi Federatsii v 2002 godu (Moscow: Goskom-
stat Rossii, 2003), 138.
policies, arguably better than international actors that operate by sending
periodic delegations. The novelty of the refugee issue and the lack of do-
mestic expertise further strengthened the UNHCR’s position in the post-
Soviet states as the resident expert on the subject. In short, the situation in
which the UNHCR found itself in the post-Soviet region may be character-
ized as the “exceptional circumstances” to which Andrew Moravcsik refers,
when a “window of opportunity” exists for international organizations’ of-
ficials to influence national policies.
29
In Russia, however, the UNHCR was
initially unsuccessful in its efforts to encourage the government to establish
a receptive and a nondiscriminatory refugee regime—to make the Russian
authorities extend legal protection to the developing-world refugees. This
was because the UNHCR’s strategy was not sensitized to the domestic pol-
itics of refugee policy in Russia.
The UNHCR in Russia initially acted squarely within the universe of
meaning defined by international refugee law. It thus concerned itself ex-
clusively with those who fit the international legal definition of refugees,
that is, with the developing-world asylum seekers, and did not assist the
“nontraditional” former Soviet refugees because they were not refugees un-
der international law. The conflict of priorities of the UNHCR and the Russ-
ian authorities was apparent. The UNHCR focused on the situation of tradi-
tional developing-world refugees who fit the international legal definition
of a refugee, and it criticized Russia for not assisting them.
30
As far as the
UNHCR was concerned, Russia was failing to live up to the international
obligations it undertook when it ratified the 1951 Convention and its 1967
Protocol. As far as the Russian authorities were concerned, Russia’s refugee
problem was first and foremost about the former Soviet nontraditional
refugees. They were “true” refugees deserving of UNHCR assistance.
The Russian authorities thus resented the UNHCR’s criticism, and for
their part attacked the international organization for failing to assist the for-
mer Soviet refugees. When Russia became the first post-Soviet state to rat-
ify the 1951 Geneva Convention and its 1967 Protocol in November 1992,
it hoped that this would bring international assistance to Russia to deal with
the influx of former Soviet citizens.
31
As it became clear that the interna-
tional assistance was not forthcoming because the former Soviet migrants
were not refugees in the sense of international law, the Russian authorities
expressed their anger in no uncertain terms. As Viacheslav Bakhmin, the
head of the Foreign Ministry’s Directorate of International Humanitarian
and Cultural Cooperation and, in 1992, one of the main supporters of the
218
OXANA SHEVEL
ratification of the Geneva Convention by Russia, put it: “We signed [the Con-
vention] so that international community would actively help with refugees—
but international help has been very weak. Our position is that the Russian
refugees in Russia are refugees in the international sense, and we want the
same kind of help that other states get. . . . It is a strategic mistake on the part
of international organizations to deal only with non-CIS refugees.”
32
The politics of nation building determined the meaning of the term
“refugee” and the priorities of the Russian government. As long as the
UNHCR took its cues only from international law, the UNHCR and the
Russian authorities were talking past each other. Only in the mid-1990s,
when the UNHCR began to change its strategies, did the deadlock that
defined the UNHCR–Russia relations in the first half of the 1990s begin
to break, and Russia’s policies toward developing-world refugees begin to
change.
An examination of the evolution of the UNHCR’s strategy allows us to
speak of a learning process. By the middle of the 1990s, the UNHCR came
to realize that the complex nature of forced migration in the wake of the col-
lapse of a multinational state necessitates a nontraditional response on its
part. Sadako Ogata, the UN high commissioner for refugees from Septem-
ber 1991 until December 2000, acknowledged that the UNHCR had
learned. She describes the UNHCR’s activities in the former Soviet Union
as “learning on the job” and affirms that when the UNHCR got involved in
the former Soviet Union it was “operating in an entirely unfamiliar envi-
ronment” and had to adjust its strategies and objectives “as it went along.”
33
This learning process took time. Only in 1994 would UNHCR headquarters
in Geneva employ its first full-time expert on the post-Soviet region.
34
By
the middle of the 1990s, in the UNHCR’s words, its “evolving strategic
thinking” led it to “recognize . . . that an effective and relevant framework
for action could not, in this non-traditional environment [i.e., that of the for-
mer Soviet Union], be based solely on an asylum-centered strategy.”
35
The changes in the UNHCR’s strategy took time to evolve but became
evident by the mid-1990s. In late 1994, the UNHCR started its first project
to benefit former Soviet refugees in Russia. A total of $4 million was ear-
marked to assist some 14,000 refugees from Georgia in Russia’s Krasnodar
region.
36
The onset of hostilities in Chechnya in early 1995 for the first time
created a large category of involuntary migrants in Russia who fit an inter-
national legal category (“internally displaced persons,” or IDPs) and whom
the UNHCR could thus assist within the framework of its mandate.
37
Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region 219
The UNHCR’s evolving strategic thinking and deepening involvement
with nontraditional migrants in Russia and in other former Soviet states was
put on a formal footing by the CIS Conference held at UNHCR headquar-
ters in May 1996.
38
Activists have criticized the CIS Conference for “squan-
dering an important opportunity and producing a document [Program of
Action] that was overly general and non-binding,”
39
as well as for failing
to adopt a broadened regional refugee definition.
40
At the same time, the
conference had an important affect on the UNHCR’s operations in the re-
gion and formally extended the UNHCR mandate in the CIS region to cover
a larger category of involuntary migrants.
41
Changes in the UNHCR strategy brought changes in Russian refugee
policy. As the UNHCR began assisting nontraditional Russian-speaking
refugees in Russia, the group of primary concern for the Russian govern-
ment, the government became more inclined to reciprocate and to recog-
nize developing-world refugees. As table 7.2 shows, the share of develop-
ing-world refugees among recognized refugees in Russia increased
progressively, starting in 1998. Even though today’s Russian policy toward
developing-world refugees cannot be described as liberal,
42
there is no
longer the deep gap between state policy toward the developing world and
toward the CIS refugees that existed in the first half of the 1990s. The se-
curitization of migration and the refugee policy debate that followed Pres-
ident Vladimir Putin’s rise to power resulted in a more restrictive approach
to all migrants and refugees, including those from the CIS.
43
This further
narrowed the gap in the treatment of former Soviet and developing-world
refugees.
In sum, a change in the UNHCR’s strategy (its decision to begin as-
sisting nontraditional refugees in Russia) produced a liberalization of Rus-
sia’s policy toward developing-world refugees. At the same time, the pol-
itics of nation building—which firmly designated the former Soviet
migrants, in particular Russians and “Russian speakers,” as “us” and thus
the priority group for the government—continues to set limits on how re-
ceptive Russia’s policy toward other refugees can be. As we are about to
see, in Ukraine the situation was different. A result of the conflictual pol-
itics of Ukrainian nation building—domestic disagreement on the ques-
tion of who is “us”—was that no refugee group could be singled out for
preferential treatment. This created domestic political space for a nondis-
criminatory refugee policy. Such a policy materialized shortly after the
UNHCR began operating in Ukraine, which it approached with a differ-
ent strategy from the start.
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OXANA SHEVEL
The Politics of Refugee Policy in Ukraine
As discussed above, Ukrainian refugee policy differed from that of Russia
in two puzzling ways. First, Ukraine did not privilege either ethnic Ukraini-
ans or CIS migrants in its policy. Second, Ukraine’s policy toward the de-
veloping world was more receptive that Russia’s. The first of these two dif-
ferences can be attributed to the different politics of nation building. The
second is due to a different strategy on the part of the UNHCR.
The National Question and Refugee Policy
Unlike in Russia, in Ukraine there was no domestic consensus on the defi-
nition of the Ukrainian nation. The two main political forces—the left
(Communists and their allies) and the right (nationalists and national-
democrats)—held conflicting views on the national question and on the
question of Ukrainian statehood. The Ukrainian Communists, just like the
Russian Communists, subscribed to the Soviet version of historiography that
portrayed the Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians as three branches of the
same people and the Soviet Union as the “correct” state formation uniting
fraternal nations into a single Soviet people. The right, for its part, held
Ukrainian independence as the highest goal and understood the Ukrainian
state as a multinational state but with an ethnic Ukrainian “core.”
44
Given their divergent views on the national question, the left and the right
differed on what group or groups are to be privileged in state policy. The
right wanted state legislation to single out ethnic Ukrainians for preferen-
tial treatment in state policies. The left, given its objective to have a union
state with Russia, focused its energies on opposing measures that under-
scored the separateness of Ukraine as a state. The left thus opposed any
measures that would single out ethnic Ukrainians as the group toward which
the state has special responsibility, while trying to institutionalize policies
(e.g., dual citizenship and two state languages) that had the potential to fos-
ter political unification with Russia.
45
In the end, neither the left nor the
right had enough political power to achieve its objectives. The left’s dual
citizenship proposals were defeated, but so were the right’s proposals to ac-
cord preferential treatment to ethnic Ukrainians. A compromise was a ter-
ritorial definition of the “official” nation in the citizenship law: Those with
family origins from the territory of Ukraine, regardless of their ethnic, lin-
guistic, and other characteristics, were made eligible to acquire Ukrainian
citizenship under a simplified procedure.
46
Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region 221
The polarized politics of nation building that resulted in a compromise
territorial definition of the “official” nation in citizenship law had several
consequences for refugee policy. First, it precluded preferential treatment for
ethnic Ukrainian refugees. The 1993 refugee law did not include any provi-
sions aimed at ethnic Ukrainian returnees, although the right and the center-
right members of Parliament advocated such measures during the debate.
47
Second, measures to benefit refugees who fell under the territorial definition
of the “official” nation were also minimal. The entirety of Ukraine’s prefer-
ential treatment of refugees who fell under this compromise definition of the
nation were one provision of the 1993 refugee law and one parliamentary
resolution. Article 3 of the refugee law exempted this group from the “safe
third country” exclusion clause during application for refugee status.
48
The
December 1993 parliamentary resolution grated some additional socioeco-
nomic rights to refugees who were eligible for Ukrainian citizenship.
49
In
practice, however, the resolution made those eligible for Ukrainian citizen-
ship actually worse off than “foreign” refugees;
50
and by 2000, just 333 in-
dividuals were able to receive assistance under this resolution.
51
If we recall that in Russia there was an entirely separate law “On Forced
Migrants” that created a preferential refugee regime for those who were el-
igible for Russian citizenship, and that the practical application of the law
“On Refugees” also privileged this group, the difference with Ukraine is
striking. This difference was a product of the different politics of nation
building. In Russia, a high degree of domestic consensus that ethnic Rus-
sians and Russian-speaking migrants from the former Soviet republics are
“us” rather than “other” mandated a preferential policy toward refugees
from the former Soviet republics. In Ukraine, where the territorial defini-
tion of the “official” nation was not the first choice of either the left or the
right, there was little political will to promote policies favoring this group.
The conflictual politics of nation building in Ukraine precluded ethnic
Ukrainians (or any other post-Soviet refugee group) from being designated
for preferential treatment in state policies; but at the same time, it created a
political space for a nondiscriminatory refugee policy. Because no single
group was designated for preferential treatment in state policies, all refugee
groups could potentially be treated equally.
A policy that is politically feasible may not become a reality, however.
Even though a nondiscriminatory refugee regime was politically feasible in
Ukraine, there was little domestic interest in it. Public and elite perception
of developing-world refugees was as negative in Ukraine as in Russia, and
no political force advocated liberal policies toward this group. The Ukrain-
222
OXANA SHEVEL
ian refugee law was adopted in 1993 but, until 1996 it remained unimple-
mented. Developing-world refugees thus had no way to legalize their stay
in Ukraine, and, as in Russia, were in the same position as illegal mi-
grants.
52
When the implementation of the 1993 law began in early 1996,
however, the results were striking. First refugee cards were handed to
Afghan refugees, and for the next several years developing-world refugees
continued to be a majority among recognized refugees. As we can see from
table 7.3, from 1996 to the end of 2000, 3,540 cases (4,720 persons) were
granted refugees status in Ukraine. Atotal of 84 percent of them were from
developing-world countries and 56 percent from Afghanistan.
53
Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region 223
Table 7.3. Refugees Recognized in Ukraine, 1996–2001
Former
Soviet Union Developing World
Recognized
Given Year Number Percent Number Percent Main Countries
Year (Cases) of Cases of Total of Cases of Total of Origin
1996 1,161 n.a. n.a. 1,161 More Afghanistan
than 90
1997 844 61 7 783 93 Afghanistan, Congo,
Angola
1998 553 117 21 436 79 Afghanistan, Sudan,
Azerbaijan
1999 476 65 14 411 86 Afghanistan, Russia
(Chechnya),
Azerbaijan
2000 506 298 59 178 35 Afghanistan, Russia
(Chechnya), Armenia
2001 274 98 36 176 64 Afghanistan,
Azerbaijan, Russia
(Chechnya)
Note: n.a. = Not available. Data refer to cases, not persons (one case can be several persons, e.g., a family).
Of the 1,161 cases recognized in 1996, 995 were from Afghanistan; Oleg Shamshur, “Migration Situation in
Ukraine: International Cooperation Related Aspects,” Migration: European Journal on International Migra-
tion and Ethnic Relations, nos. 29–31 (1998): 29–44 (the citation is on 32).
Sources: Official data of the State Committee of Ukraine for Nationalities and Migration. Cited after the follow-
ing: for 1996 and 1998, Olena Malynovska, “Some Statistic Data on Refugees in Ukraine,” Migration Issues 3,
no. 10 (1999): 28–33; for 1997, Derzhavnyi Komitet u spravakh natsionalnostei i migratsii, “Zvit pro osib, iaki
zvernulysia iz zaiavamy pro nadannia statusu bizhentsia v Ukraini stanom na 1.01.1998,” 1998; for 1999,
Derzhavnyi Komitet u spravakh natsionalnostei i migratsii, “Zvit pro osib, iaki zvernulysia iz zaiavamy pro
nadannia statusu bizhentsia v Ukraini stanom na 1.01.2000, Forma 1 (Bizhentsi),” February 3, 2000; for 2000,
Derzhavnyi Departament u spravakh natsionalnostei i migratsii, “Zvit pro osib iaki zvernulysia iz zaiavamy pro
nadannia statusu bizhentia v Ukraini stanom na 1.01.2001,” 2001. For 2001, Derzhavnyi Komitet u spravakh nat-
sionalnostei i migratsii, “Zvit pro osib, iaki zvernulysia iz zaiavamy pro nadannia statusu bizhentsia v Ukraini
stanom na 1.01.2002, Forma 1 (Bizhensti),” January 28, 2002.
If we take into account that thousands of developing-world refugees had
been present in Ukraine since early 1990s, and that until 1996 their situa-
tion was no better than that of developing-world refugees in Russia, one
cannot help but wonder why Ukraine’s policy toward developing-world
refugees improved so quickly starting in 1996. Ukraine began granting sta-
tus to developing-world refugees within months after the UNHCR estab-
lished a permanent local presence in the country in August 1995. This was
not a coincidence. The emergence of a receptive refugee regime in Ukraine
was a product of the UNHCR’s strategy, which from the outset was differ-
ent from the one it pursued in Russia.
The Role of the UNHCR
By the time the UNHCR got involved in Ukraine, it had learned from its
experience in Russia that a strategy centered on the strict application of in-
ternational refugee law was not very effective in the post-Soviet environ-
ment. As discussed above, by the middle of the 1990s the UNHCR was
growing increasingly aware of the particularities of the refugee problem in
the post-Soviet space, and it began to turn its attention to nontraditional
refugees. Since December 1994, the UNHCR had also been preparing to
host a conference on the forced migration problem in the former Soviet
space (the 1996 CIS Conference). If the decision to hold a conference on
the peculiarities of the post-Soviet refugee problem was evidence of the
UNHCR having learned on the overall organization level, its activities in
Ukraine evidenced such learning at the local level.
In Russia, as we saw above, the consensual politics of nation building
made the government primarily concerned with Russian speakers from the
former Soviet republics. The conflictual politics of nation building in
Ukraine did not generally make Ukrainian, Ukrainian-speaking, or former
Soviet migrants a priority group for the Ukrainian government. However,
the nature of the forced migration problem in Ukraine placed one group of
involuntary migrants in the government spotlight for political, economic,
and social reasons. The group in question was the Crimean Tatars.
The Crimean Tatars were deported from Crimea on Stalin’s orders in
1944, and since the late 1980s, they had begun to return back en masse. By
the mid-1990s, some 250,000 had returned, and the sheer number of re-
turnees made the challenge of their accommodation and integration daunt-
ing. Furthermore, Crimea’s political sensitivities made the Crimean Tatars
a political concern to the Ukrainian authorities. On the one hand, the
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OXANA SHEVEL
Crimean Tatars, who supported Ukraine’s independence and opposed the
transfer of Crimea to Russia, were an important counterbalance to the threat
of Russian separatism on the peninsula. On the other hand, the Crimean
Tatars themselves demanded national-territorial autonomy. This demand
raised the political temperature on the peninsula, and the central authorities
also eyed it with concern.
54
The question whether to assist the Ukrainian authorities with the inte-
gration of the Crimean Tatars and other formerly deported peoples (FDPs)
55
presented a dilemma for the UNHCR. From the point of view of inter-
national refugee law, the legal status of FDPs in Ukraine was as ambiguous
as the status of the post-Soviet migrants in Russia. In the late 1980s, the
Crimean Tatars’ return started as an internal migration within a single state
(the USSR); after 1991, it continued as an international migration from
other newly independent states to Ukraine. The vast majority of the FDPs
were thus neither “refugees” nor “internally displaced persons” in the sense
of international law, and therefore not under the UNHCR mandate. Instead
of falling back on its mandate restrictions and shunning involvement with
the FDPs in Crimea, the UNHCR in Ukraine made a strategic decision to
find a way to aid the Ukrainian government with their resettlement.
Starting in April 1995, the UNHCR dispatched a series of fact-finding
missions to Crimea to identify groups of FDPs that would fall under its
mandate. In July 1995, the Ukrainian government formally requested the
UNHCR to assist with the resettlement and integration of FDPs.
56
By early
1996, the UNHCR had identified two groups of FDPs that it could assist un-
der it mandate: several thousand FDPs who had fled conflict areas in the
former Soviet republics and who were in a refugee-like situation; and tens
of thousands of legally stateless FDPs who had arrived in Ukraine after the
1991 citizenship law entered into force.
57
Once mandate justification for the
UNHCR involvement was found, the UNHCR in Ukraine quickly pro-
ceeded with concrete assistance, such as financing housing construction for
returnees.
58
These shelter rehabilitation projects provided tangible results
rather quickly, and they established for the UNHCR a reputation as the in-
ternational organization that actually “delivers.”
59
This reputation was
strengthened in the following years. In the period 1997–2000, the UNHCR
conducted a massive “citizenship campaign”—its largest in the world—in
which it invested $2 million, and which helped nearly 100,000 Crimean
Tatars acquire Ukrainian citizenship.
60
When refugee status determination began in Ukraine in early 1996, it im-
mediately benefited developing-world refugees. The Ukrainian authorities’
Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region 225
willingness to grant refugee status to developing-world refugees was in no
small measure a reciprocal act for the UNHCR’s assistance with the reset-
tlement of FPDs in Crimea. The UNHCR’s assistance in Crimea had
positive “spillover” effects for refugee protection in all of Ukraine. The
UNHCR was also aware of this effect of its engagement with FDPs on
refugee policies: “There are side benefits to UNHCR in Kyiv for any assis-
tance policy in the Crimea,” a July 1996 UNHCR report noted.
61
Ukrain-
ian government officials likewise acknowledge that the UNHCR’s “good
will” with the problems of FDPs in Crimea was reciprocated by “good will”
on the part of the Ukrainian government with regard to developing-world
asylum seekers.
62
In another departure from its approach in Russia, the UNHCR in Ukraine
decided initially not to put too much emphasis on the ratification of the
Geneva Convention by Ukraine but instead to concentrate on what it termed
a “step-by-step approach.”
63
This difference in strategy also can be attrib-
uted to the UNHCR’s learning experience. Russia ratified the 1951 Geneva
Convention and its 1967 Protocol as early as 1992, and it had a liberal
refugee law on the books by early 1993, but these legislative developments
did not translate into a receptive policy toward developing-world refugees.
If there was a clear lesson from the Russian case for the UNHCR, it was
that in an environment of the weak rule of law, the mere act of ratification
of international instruments or adoption of liberal legislation does not nec-
essarily translate into policies in line with formally declared legal princi-
ples and obligations. The UNHCR Kyiv office thus devised a “step-by-step”
strategy. The head of the office was himself a national of a postcommunist
state (Hungary) who was well aware of the limited power of the letter of the
law in the postcommunist context in the absence of authorities’ desire and
capacity to implement it. The UNHCR Kyiv office got Geneva to back this
novel approach.
64
The essence of the “step-by-step” approach was to emphasize and reward
authorities’ gradual practical progress in refugee policy, rather than strive
for legislative perfection.
65
The primary goal of the “step-by-step” strategy
was to encourage the authorities to accept and process refugee applications
in a nondiscriminatory manner, even when the national legislation remained
suboptimal relative to international standards. In line with this strategy, the
UNHCR provided targeted material and technical assistance to the relevant
central and regional government agencies. Both the Ukrainian authorities
and the UNHCR acknowledge that material and technical assistance pro-
vided by the UNHCR enabled and encouraged the authorities to address the
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OXANA SHEVEL
problems of refugees in Ukraine that might otherwise have remained ig-
nored due to the lack of local capacity and resources required to implement
the refugee law.
66
As one senior Ukrainian refugee policy official put it suc-
cinctly: “Without UNHCR, we [the Ukrainian migration service] would
have perished.”
67
The second half of the 1990s saw quick progress in refugee protection in
Ukraine. The implementation of the 1993 refugee law began in February
1996, when the first refugees were recognized by the Kyiv City Migration
Service. By the end of 1996, the refugee status determination procedure was
being implemented in fifteen of Ukraine’s twenty-seven regions. By the end
of 1999, the procedure was being implemented in all regions of Ukraine.
68
The UNHCR provided migration services with material, technical, and ex-
pert assistance, and it was also generous in its praise of Ukraine’s refugee
policies as “an example for the CIS region.”
69
Ukraine finally ratified the
1951 Geneva Convention and its Protocol in January 2002, after adopting
a revised refugee law in June of the previous year.
A paradox of the nondiscriminatory refugee policy in Ukraine was its
adverse effects for former Soviet migrants, and especially ethnic Ukrain-
ian (usually referred to as “repatriates”) in Ukraine. This was because a
nondiscriminatory refugee policy benefited whoever was a refugee under
international law. In Ukraine, developing-world refugees were the ones
who unambiguously met the refugee definition under international law
(they crossed an international border and were not citizens of Ukraine).
Ethnic Ukrainian repatriates and other former Soviet migrants generally
did not meet the refugee definition because of their migration experience
and/or citizenship status, and thus they could not benefit from a refugee
policy that respected the international legal definition of a refugee. The sit-
uation whereby “foreign” refugees are apparently better off than Ukrain-
ian repatriates is frequently lamented in Ukraine, including by government
officials.
70
As one newspaper headline crudely summarized this sentiment,
“If you want to be a refugee in Ukraine, you are better off if you are
black.”
71
Despite the legislative and practical progress achieved in the 1990s, the
Ukrainian refugee regime remains fragile, as events of the most recent years
show. Frequent restructurings of the state administrative organs negatively
affect the functioning of refugee law. In 2001, the main government body
dealing with refugees was re-created and restaffed for the seventh time in
eight years. This restructuring halted the refugee recognition process from
mid-2001 until the end of 2002, and only two refugees were recognized dur-
Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region 227
ing this period.
72
Financial assistance from the UNHCR, which has been an
important incentive for the cash-strapped Ukrainian authorities, declined
after 2001, when the UNHCR citizenship campaign in Crimea came to an
end and the UNHCR Kyiv office saw budget cuts.
73
In 2003, the European
Commission began financing the UNHCR-implemented project “Strength-
ening the Asylum System in Ukraine.”
74
It remains to be seen if the result-
ing increase in the UNHCR Kyiv office budget, and thus of its ability to pro-
vide material incentives to the Ukrainian authorities, will lead to an increase
in refugee recognition rates in the coming years,
75
and if Ukraine will
amend its refugee law in line with UNHCR recommendations.
76
To sum up, the result of the different politics of nation building and dif-
ferent strategies of international actors in Russia and Ukraine was a rela-
tively more receptive policy toward developing-world refugees in Ukraine
in comparison with Russia, and a significantly more receptive refugee pol-
icy toward co-ethnics in Russia than in Ukraine. Though one should not
overlook the fact that developing-world refugees experience many eco-
nomic and legal hardships in Ukraine as well, the difference with Russia is
still significant. In Ukraine, developing-world asylum seekers generally had
a way of legalizing their stay and thus receiving at least minimal protection,
whereas in Russia they generally did not. The difference in the treatment of
the co-ethnics in the two countries has been even more striking.
Conclusion
The evolution of Russian and Ukrainian refugee policies illustrates how the
politics of nation building and the strategies of the international actors
shaped refugee policy outcomes in states where the challenges of nation
building and of refugee protection are intertwined. The different ways in
which Russia and Ukraine responded to the similar challenge of refugee
protection had to do with the different politics of nation building and dif-
ferent strategies of the UNHCR. Russian and Ukrainian refugee policy story
contains several larger implications that reach beyond the issue of refugee
policy.
The first of these implications is for scholars of identity and of nation
building. The story told in this chapter underscores what Arel emphasized
in his introduction: To understand how identity matters, researchers must
investigate the political process that gives meaning to categories of iden-
tity; rather than simply assuming that certain objective markers, such as
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OXANA SHEVEL
passport ethnicity, language, or territory, will have the same importance
(and thus produce similar policies) in different domestic settings. Indeed, it
is the politics over the labeling, recognition, and meaning of identity cate-
gories that makes a certain cleavage salient (or not) in a particular domes-
tic context. In Russia and Ukraine, as we have seen in this chapter, what
mattered for inclusion and exclusion in the nation (and thus for the prefer-
ential treatment and for discrimination in refugee policy) was not simply
ethnicity (or any other objective characteristic). The relative strength of po-
litical forces that “imagined” the nation differently determined how the “us”
and the “other” were defined in the law. Whether or not the “us” would then
receive preferential treatment in refugee policy further depended on the de-
gree of domestic consensus over the definition of the “us.”
The second lesson of the Russian and Ukrainian refugee policy story is
that a polarizing politics of nation building may have unintended “liberal”
consequences. As the Ukrainian case illustrates, a “weak” national identity
and the conflictual politics of nation building can open a political space for
a liberal policy in another issue area that would not have existed otherwise.
This finding is in line with that of the scholars of democratization who have
shown how in states with weak civil societies and no history of democracy
elite fragmentation enables a degree of political pluralism and serves as an
obstacle to authoritarian consolidation.
77
The fact that the territorial defini-
tion turned out to be a compromise definition of the nation in Ukraine also
suggests that the default equilibrium outcome of a polarized politics of na-
tion building in terms of state policies may be a civic nation-building proj-
ect—an intriguing possibility that deserves further research.
Finally, the Russian and the Ukrainian cases both testify to the potential
of international actors in the postcommunist region to promote policies re-
spectful of human rights. This implication has an important caveat, how-
ever—the evidence from Russia and Ukraine clearly shows that the success
of international actors depends on how well they understand the domestic
politics of the issue they are trying influence, and how able they are to ad-
just their strategies to fit domestic constraints.
Notes
1. These are UNHCR statistics for refugees and other categories of displaced per-
sons “of concern” to the UNHCR, as reported in UNHCR, The State of the World’s
Refugees: Fifty Years of Humanitarian Action (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000),
annex 2, 306–9.
Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region 229
2. The 1977 Soviet Constitution (article 38) provided for the granting of asylum to
“foreigners persecuted for defending the interests of the working people and the cause
of peace, or for participation in the revolutionary and national-liberation movement, or
for progressive social and political, scientific, or other creative activity.” However, de-
cisions to grant such asylum were made on an individual basis by the Presidium of the
Supreme Soviet of the USSR, and no refugee or asylum legislation existed.
3. UNHCR, State of the World’s Refugees, annex 2, 306–9.
4. Article 1 (2) of the 1951 Convention reads: “[T]he term “refugee” shall apply
to any person who, as a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owning
to well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, mem-
bership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his na-
tionality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the pro-
tection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country
of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owning to such
fear, is unwilling, to return to it.” According to the 1951 Convention, the term “refugee”
applied only to those who fitted this refugee definition “as a result of events occurring
in Europe before 1 January 1951.” The 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees
removed the time limit and the geographical limitation set in the 1951 Convention.
Thus, since 1967, under the international law the refugees are those who fit the defini-
tion of the 1951 Convention, regardless of when and where the events that made them
refugees occurred. The text of the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol are in Divi-
sion of International Protection, UNHCR, Collection of International Instruments and
Other Legal Acts Concerning Refugees and Displaced Persons (Geneva: UNHCR,
1995), 10–45.
5. UNHCR Russian Federation, “UNHCR Moscow Registration of Asylum Seek-
ers (Till the End of December),” January 28, 1998. Other main countries of origin
were Iraq (9 percent), Somalia (8 percent), Angola (3 percent), and Sri Lanka (3 per-
cent). UNHCR registration statistics from 1992 to January 1999 in UNHCR Russian
Federation, “1998–2000 Country Report and Operations Plan (CROP) Narrative,” 5.
6. Grigory Sereda, “The State Department for Nationalities and Migration: ANew
Working Strategy,” Citizen, no. 28 (October 2000): 7–9, 8.
7. Other main countries of origin of refugees from the developing world in Ukraine
were Angola, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and Sri Lanka.
8. Thus, a 1997 UNHCR survey of 352 refugees in Ukraine, 84 percent of them
Afghans, found that 54 percent wanted to remain in Ukraine (23 percent wanted to move
to a Western country, and 23 percent to return home); see UNHCR Ukraine, National
Institute of Ukrainian-Russian Relations, Institute of Sociology of the Ukrainian Acad-
emy of Sciences, Refugees in Ukraine (Kyiv: UNHCR, 1997), 56–79. In 1992, Afghan
students in Russia created an organization with a purpose to help themselves “remain in
Russia.” (According to one of the organization’s founders; author’s interview, Moscow,
August 11, 1998.) The desire of many Afghans to remain is understandable, given that
most of them were associated with a Soviet-backed Najibullah regime and came to study
or train in Soviet civilian and military institutions. They had time to adjust linguistically
and culturally to the new environment.
9. Calculated from the UNHCR country statistics for 1999 as reported in UNHCR,
State of the World’s Refugees, annex 2.
10. The term “ethnic unmixing” is Rogers Brubaker’s, and describes the return of
ethnic minorities to their “ethnic homelands.” Rogers Brubaker, Nationalism Reframed:
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Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe (New York: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, 1996).
11. Figure cited after Arthur Helton, “Lost Opportunities at the CIS Migration Con-
ference,” Transition 2, no. 13 (June 28, 1996): 52–54; the quotation is on 53.
12. By the end of the 1990s, more than 9 million people had moved from one for-
mer Soviet republic to another in one of the largest mass migrations in recent European
history. Arthur Helton and Natalia Voronina, Forced Displacement and Human Security
in the Former Soviet Union: Law and Policy (Ardsley, N.Y.: Transnational Publishers,
2000), ix.
13. Under the February 1992 Russian citizenship law (article 18, paragraph 4), all
former Soviet citizens were eligible to acquire Russian citizenship virtually automati-
cally, simply by expressing the desire to become a Russian citizen. The November 1991
Ukrainian citizenship law (article 17, paragraph 2) made those who were born, or at least
one of whose parents or grandparents was born, in the territory of Ukraine eligible for
Ukrainian citizenship under a simplified procedure. For the texts of the laws, see Inter-
national Organization for Migration, Sbornik zakonodatelnykh aktov gosudarstv SNG i
Baltii po voprosam migratsii, grazhdanstva i sviazannym s nimi aspektami (Geneva: In-
ternational Organization for Migration, 1995), 280–95, for the Russian law; and 388–98
for the Ukrainian law.
14. As noted above, under the international refugee law, eligibility for citizenship in
a receiving state makes one ineligible to be defined as refugee.
15. On this mismatch between international legal and sociopolitical domestic un-
derstanding of who is a refugee in the post-Soviet context, see also Adriano Silvestri and
Olga Tchernishova, “The Legal Framework Regulating Asylum in the Russian Federa-
tion,” International Journal of Refugee Law 10, no. 1 (1998): 184–99.
16. See official statistics in Goskomstat Rossii, Chislennost i migratsia naselenia
Rossiiskoi Federatsii v 2000 godu (Moscow: Goskomstat Rossii, 2001), 116.
17. In 1993, ethnic Russians were 58 percent of those granted forced migrant status.
In 1998, ethnic Russians were 76 percent; International Organization for Migration, Re-
settlement of “Refugees” and “Forced Migrants” in the Russian Federation (Geneva:
International Organization for Migration, 1998), 22. In 2001 and 2002, ethnic Russians
were 66 percent; Goskomstat Rossii, Chislennost i migratsiia naseleniia Rossiiskoi Fed-
eratsii v 2002 godu (Moscow: Goskomstat Rossii, 2003), table 3.9.
18. This was calculated by the author from official statistics obtained from the State
Committee of Ukraine for Nationalities and Migration.
19. To be sure, the definition of the nation in the law is indicative only of the “offi-
cial” content of the category “nation.” The majority of the public in a given state may
or may not “imagine” the nation the way it is defined in the law.
20. For a detailed analysis of how main Russian political forces “imagine” the Russ-
ian nation in the post-Soviet period, consult Yitzhak Brudny, “Politika identichnosti i
post-kommunisticheskii vybor Rossii,” Polis, no. 1 (2001): 87–104; Vera Tolz, “Con-
flicting “Homeland Myths” and Nation-State Building in Postcommunist Russia,”
Slavic Review 57, no. 2 (1998): 267–94; Tolz, “Forging the Nation: National Identity
and Nation Building in Post-Communist Russia,” Europe-Asia Studies 50, no. 6 (1998):
993–1022; Tolz, Russia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), chapter 8; and Oxana
Shevel, “National Identity and International Institutions: Refugee Policies in Post-Com-
munist Europe.” Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 2002, chapter 3.
21. Although the 1991 citizenship law made no explicit mention of ethnic Russians
Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region 231
or Russian speakers, during discussion in the parliament, the chairman of the parlia-
mentary commission on citizenship, Yurii Zaitsev, affirmed that the provision was aimed
at this group: “Simplified procedure, i.e., registration procedure, applies to USSR citi-
zens (of course, we have in mind the Russian-speaking population, although this is not
stated anywhere in the law) who reside on the territories of the union republics.” Verk-
hovnyi Sovet Rossiiskoi Federatsii, Chetvertaia sessia Verkhovnogo Soveta Rossiiskoi
Federatsii, O proekte zakona o grazhdanstve RSFSR: Povtornoie pervoie chtenie, No-
vember 15, bulletin 12 sovmestnogo zasedania Soveta Respublik i Soveta Natsional-
nostei (Moscow: Verkhovnyi Sovet Rossiiskoi Federatsii, 1991), 12.
22. Forced migrant status was easier to obtain than refugee status, because one did
not have to prove individual persecution. Persecution against family members, for ex-
ample, was grounds for granting forced migrant—but not refugee—status. Forced mi-
grant status could also be granted to those who feared “violations of public order or other
circumstances significantly violating human rights”; such fears would not have quali-
fied one for a refugee status. Both laws were rather generous, in fact more generous than
the 1951 Convention itself, in terms of the social and economic rights they granted.
Forced migrant status carried with it greater socioeconomic benefits that were to be guar-
anteed by the state. In particular, under the forced migrants law, one was entitled to hous-
ing (including during the application procedure), to social payments and medical care,
and to compensation for property left in the previous place of residence. The Russian
state guaranteed a compensation for lost property to forced migrants if they could not
obtain it from the state they left. Refugees were not guaranteed such compensation but
only the Russian state’s assistance in securing compensation from the state they left.
Refugees were entitled to three months of free housing in a refugee accommodation cen-
ter, while there was no such time limit on the right to free housing in the forced migrant
law.
23. For arrivals from the former Soviet republics the procedure was one of registra-
tion, not of recognition: without individual status determination procedure (although the
1993 laws envisaged individual examination of the claims); with proof of individual per-
secution usually not required; and with the decision often made the same day. Thus, No-
vember 25, 1993, decree 2775 of the Federal Migration Service, “On Recognizing and
Registering Forced Migrants on the Territory of the Russian Federation,” ruled (article
2.2) that one has to present proof of persecution only “if necessary” (pri neobkhodi-
mosti). The decree also recommended (article 2.5) that recognition decisions are to be
made on the day of application “if possible,” or within five days—time limits not con-
ducive to a thorough examination of applications on the merit of each individual claim.
24. Goskomstat Rossii, Rossiiskii statisticheskii iezhegodnik: Statisticheskii sbornik
(Moscow: Goskomstat Rossii, 2000), 101.
25. These are 1994 developing-world refugee recognition data provided to the au-
thor by UNHCR Moscow. Overall 1994 refugee recognition data are cited after Federal
Migration Service of the Russian Federation, “Svedenia o bezhentsakh i vynuzhdennykh
pereselentsakh 1992–1996,” 1997.
26. Goskomstat Rossii, Chislennost i migratsia naselenia Rossiiskoi Federatsii v
2002 godu (Moscow: Goskomstat Rossii, 2003), 138.
27. See Statute of the Office of the UNHCR in Division of International Protection,
UNHCR, Collection of International Instruments and Other Legal Acts Concerning
Refugees and Displaced Persons (Geneva: UNHCR, 1995), v. I, part 1, 3–9.
28. Charles Keely notes that after the displaced persons of World War II were set-
232
OXANA SHEVEL
tled, the UNHCR in Europe “had virtually no role. The European desk in the UNHCR
was more and more attenuated . . . UNHCR . . . quickly became an agency operating in
the third world.” Keely, “The International Refugee Regimes: The End of the Cold
War Matters,” International Migration Review 35, no. 1 (2001): 303–14; the quotation
is on 307.
29. Andrew Moravcsik argues for the primacy of national governments and domes-
tic politics, rather than international organizations’ officials, in all but “exceptional
circumstance” that create a “window of opportunity” for supranational actors.” Moravc-
sik, “A New Statecraft: Supranational Entrepreneurs and International Cooperation,” In-
ternational Organizations 53, no. 2 (1999): 267–306; the quotation is on 285. These cir-
cumstances, according to Moravcsik, are when issues are novel, constituencies
unorganized, and governments mired in old policy models—a description well suited to
postcommunist refugee policymaking.
30. For examples of UNHCR criticism of Russia, see UNHCR spokesperson, as
quoted in Agence France-Press, “UNHCR Accuses Moscow for Failing to Handle Asy-
lum Seekers,” October 9, 1997; Adriano Silvestri, “Situatsia grazhdan iz dalnego
zarubezhia, ishchushchikh ubezhishcha v Rossiiskoi Federatsii,” 1997 (the author was
protection officer in the UNHCR Moscow office); and Russia Section of Lawyers Com-
mittee for Human Rights, Critique: Review of the U.S. Department of State Country Re-
ports on Human Rights Practices for 1996 (New York: Lawyers Committee for Human
Rights, 1997), written by a former UNHCR Moscow protection officer.
31. This expectation was expressed during the parliamentary debate on the ratifi-
cation. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov assured the members of Parliament that
there will be no financial costs to bear as a result of the ratification of these interna-
tional documents; that Convention ratification will bring international assistance to
Russia for coping with migration from the former Soviet republics; and that it would
also ensure that developing-world refugees will be resettled to other counties. See
Lavrov’s comments in Verkhovnyi Sovet Rossiiskoi Federatsii, Piataia sessia Verk-
hovnogo Soveta Rossiiskoi Federatsii, O prisoiedinenii Rossiiskoi Federatsii k Kon-
ventsii o statuse bezhentsev ot 1951 goda i k Protokolu, kasaiushchemusia statusa
bezhentsa ot 1967 goda, November 13, bulleten 18 sovmestnogo zasedania Soveta Re-
spublik i Soveta Natsionalnostei (Moscow: Verkhivnyi Sovet Rossiiskoi Federatsii,
1992), chast 1, 7–9.
32. Bakhmin is quoted in Jan Cienski, “Chilly Reception for Refugees in Russia,”
Refugees, no. 4 (December 1994): 10–12; the quotation is on 10, 13.
33. Interview with the author, Cambridge, Mass., October 24, 2001. In a 1996 in-
terview with the Russian daily Izvestia, Sadako Ogata likewise admitted that when the
UNHCR established its presence in Russia in 1992, for UNHCR Russia was “an un-
known territory” and that “for the most part the international community had no knowl-
edge about the scale and the specificities of migration processes [in Russia and the for-
mer Soviet space].” Ogata as quoted in Vladimir Mikheev, “OON beret pod svoie krylo
bezhentsev Rossii,” Izvestia, October 16, 1996.
34. Bohdan Nahaylo (senior policy adviser for the newly independent states) was
the first area expert employed at the UNHCR Geneva headquarters.
35. UNHCR, State of the World’s Refugees, 200.
36. Cienski, “Chilly Reception”; also see UNHCR, The Activities of the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the Newly Independent States (Geneva:
UNHCR, 1994), 27. For more details on the beginning of the UNHCR involvement with
Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region 233
nontraditional refugee groups in Russia, see Shevel, “National Identity and International
Institutions,” chaps. 4 and 5.
37. The IDPs are victims of armed conflicts, persecution, or a breakdown in law and
order who flee their homes but, unlike refugees, do not cross an international border. The
UNHCR mandate does not refer to IDPs explicitly, but it allows the UNHCR to “engage
in such activities . . . the General Assembly may determine.” Policy directives for
UNHCR involvement with IDPs specify consent of host state, approval of the UN sec-
retary general, and availability of resources as criteria for UNHCR involvement with
IDPs. See UNHCR, “Information Note: UNHCR’s Role with Internally Displaced Per-
sons,” November 20, 1998. In Russia, the first Chechen war created the first large group
that was unambiguously IDPs. North Ossetia was another region of Russia where there
were IDPs (40,000–50,000 displaced as a result of North Ossetian–Ingush conflict in
1992, i.e., after Russia became an independent state). In October 1994, the Russian au-
thorities formally requested the UNHCR to assist in North Ossetia, and within months,
the first Chechen war broke out.
38. The formal title of the conference was “Regional Conference to Address the
Problems of Refugees, Displaced Persons, Other Forms of Involuntary Displacement in
the Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Neighboring States.” It
was attended by representatives of all fifteen former Soviet republics and seventy-two
other counties, as well as twenty-nine international organizations. For an overview of
events leading to the May 1996 CIS Conference, see Helton and Voronina, Forced Dis-
placement and Human Security, 67–76.
39. U.S. Committee for Refugees, 1997 Country Reports: Russian Federation,
http://www.refugees.org/world/countryrpt/europe/1997/russian_federation.htm.
40. For activist criticism of the CIS Conference, see Arthur Helton, “Lost Opportu-
nities at the CIS Migration Conference,” Transition 2, no. 13 (June 28, 1996): 52–54;
Helton, “Written statement of Arthur C. Helton, Esq., Director of the Forced Migration
Projects of the Open Society Institute on Forced Migration in the Newly Independent
States of the Former Soviet Union for the Regional Conference to Address the Problems
of Refugees, Displaced Persons, Other Forms of Involuntary Displacement and Re-
turnees in the Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Relevant
Neighbouring States,” May 31, 1996; and Helton and Voronina, Forced Displacement
and Human Security, 67–80.
41. Besides internationally accepted categories such as “refugees” and “internally
displaced persons,” the CIS Conference Program of Action introduced five categories
“applicable to situation in the CIS countries” to which the UNHCR mandate in the re-
gion was formally extended. These new categories were: involuntarily relocated persons
(those who fled general unrest and resettled in their country of citizenship), persons in
refugee-like situations (war refugees), formerly deported peoples (who were deported
from their historic homeland in the Soviet period), repatriants (who have voluntarily
moved to their country of citizenship for permanent residency), and ecological migrants.
For full definitions of each category, see annex 2 of the CIS Conference Program of Ac-
tion reprinted in Helton and Voronina, Forced Displacement and Human Security,
212–14.
42. In the late 1990s, the UNHCR continued to criticize many elements of Russia’s
policy, in particular low recognition rates, the denial of status to many developing-world
asylum seekers that the UNHCR considers genuine refugees, and a backlog of cases re-
sulting in long waits (in 2001, in Moscow the wait period before one could apply for
234
OXANA SHEVEL
refugee status was as long as two years). For recent criticisms, see UNHCR, State of the
World’s Refugees.
43. The reversal of an “open door” policy toward former Soviet migrants began in
the middle of the 1990s. The new editions of the laws “On Forced Migrants” and “On
Refugees,” adopted in late 1995 and mid-1997, respectively, rolled back what had come
to be regarded as overly generous social and economic rights granted to refugees and
forced migrants (e.g., guaranteed free housing and compensation for property left
abroad). In 1997, the Federal Migration Service also began to deregister previously rec-
ognized refugees (some 300,000 were deregistered in 1997–98 alone), and stopped the
practice of virtually automatic granting of refugee and forced migrant status to the ar-
rivals from the former Soviet republics. The view that the open-door policy toward mi-
grants from the former Soviet Union undermines Russian security and places an undue
economic burden on the Russian state continued to gain currency in official circles, and
under President Putin the securitization of refugee policy debate progressed further. In
2000, the Federal Migration Service was liquidated, and in 2001 its functions were trans-
ferred to the Ministry of the Interior. A slue of migration legislation adopted in 2001–2
further tightened the rules for the former Soviet citizens who moved to Russia from other
former Soviet republics. For more detailed discussion of these developments, see
Shevel, “National Identity and International Institutions,” chap. 5.
44. For a more detailed discussion of the national identity conceptions embraced by
the Ukrainian left and right, see Oleksii Haran and Oleksandr Maiboroda, eds., Ukrain-
ski livi: Mizh leninizmom i sotsial-demokratieiu (Kyiv: KM Academia, 2000); Oleksiy
Haran, “Can Ukrainian Communists and Socialists Evolve to Social Democracy?”
Demokratizatsiya 9, no. 4 (2001): 570–87; Taras Kuzio, “Defining the Political Com-
munity in Ukraine: State, Nation, and the Transition to Modernity,” in State and Insti-
tution-Building in Ukraine, ed. Taras Kuzio, Robert S. Kravchuk, and Paul D’Anieri
(New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), 213–44; Joan Barth Urban, “The Communist Par-
ties of Russia and Ukraine on the Eve of the 1999 Elections: Similarities, Contrasts, and
Interactions,” Demokratizatsiya 7, no. 1 (1999): 111–34; Andrew Wilson, The Ukraini-
ans: Unexpected Nation (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000); and Wilson,
“Reinventing the Ukrainian Left: Assessing Adaptability and Change, 1991–2000,”
Slavonic and East European Review 80, no. 1 (2002): 21–59.
45. For a discussion of how in post-Soviet Ukraine dual citizenship and state lan-
guage are issues that bear on the question of state independence, see Oxana Shevel, “Na-
tionality in Ukraine: Some Rules of Engagement,” East European Politics and Societies
16, no. 2 (2002): 387–413. For evidence on how the dual citizenship question, the ques-
tion whether ethnic Ukrainians abroad are to be made eligible for simplified citizenship
acquisition, and the question whether knowledge of Ukrainian is to be a requirement for
citizenship acquisition dominated the debate of the draft citizenship laws in 1991, 1997,
and 2001, consult Shevel, “Nationality in Ukraine,” and Shevel, “Citizenship and Na-
tion-Building in Ukraine,” paper presented at the Tenth Annual Convention of the As-
sociation for the Study of Nationalities, Columbia University, New York, April 14–16,
2005.
46. For a detailed analysis of the politics of citizenship policy in Ukraine since 1991,
see Shevel, “Citizenship.”
47. During the first reading of the refugee law on April 21, 1993, the absence of
any provision aimed at returning ethnic Ukrainians was lamented by the national-
democrats. As one member of Parliament (MP) put it, “There is not a hint in this law
Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region 235
about Ukrainians who live beyond the borders of Ukraine and who, in essence, do not
feel support of their fatherland.” MP Romaniuk, Verkhovna Rada Ukrainy, Sioma ses-
sia Verkhovnoi Rady Ukrainy XIIgo sklykannia, Zakon Ukrainy pro bizhentsiv—pershe
chytannia, April 21, 1993, Bulletins 28 and 29 (Kyiv: Verkhovna Rada Ukrainy, 1993),
14. Another MP from western Ukraine, Bondarchuk, called to include in the definition
of refugees “our Ukrainian brothers” arriving to Ukraine from the former Soviet coun-
tries. Verkhovna Rada Ukrainy, Sioma sessia Verkhovnoi Rady Ukrainy XIIgo sklykan-
nia, Zakon Ukrainy pro bizhentsiv—pershe chytannia, 5.
48. See article 3, paragraph 4, of the December 24, 1993, law “On Refugees” (no.
3818-XII); the text of the law is found in Ukrainska pravnycha fundatsia, Upravlinnia
Verhovnoho Komisara OON u Spravakh Bizhenstiv, Ukrains’kyi Tsentr Prav Liudyny,
Pravovyi zakhyst bizhentsiv v Ukraini: zbirka documentiv (Kyiv: Polihraf-SVK, 1998),
42–48.
49. The December 24, 1993, resolution of the Presidium of the Ukrainian Parlia-
ment, “On Implementing the Law on Refugees,” granted citizens of Ukraine who ar-
rived to Ukraine fleeing persecution, as defined in article 1 of the refugee law, rights
equal to those of refugees. Those who applied for Ukrainian citizenship but who had not
yet received citizenship were granted the same rights as applicants for refugee status (a
more limited set of rights). Resolution 3819-XII, text in Ukrainska pravnycha fundat-
sia, Pravovyi zakhyst bizhentsiv v Ukraini, 49.
50. In practice, the resolution hurt refugees eligible for Ukrainian citizenship rela-
tive to those who were not because the citizenship acquisition procedure could last up
to a year while decisions on refugee applications were generally made within one month.
This meant that those eligible for citizenship had to wait up to a year before they could
acquire full set of refugee socioeconomic rights, while “foreign” refugees acquired these
rights after a few months—as soon as they received refugee status. These unintended
consequences of the 1993 resolution are explained in Olena Malynovska, “Repatriation
to Ukraine,” Migration Issues 4, no. 11 (1999): 17–29.
51. Derzhavnyi Komitet u spravakh natsionalnostei i mihratsii, “Zvit pro statevo-
vikovyi sklad osib z pravom na sproshchenyi poriadok nabuttia hromadianstva Ukrainy,
iaki zhidno z postanovoiu Verkhovnoi Rady Ukrainy vid 24.23.1993 r. No. 3819-XII
“Pro poriadok vvedennia v diiu Zakonu Ukrainy “Pro bizhentsiv” do pryinattia rishen-
nia pro nadannia iim hromadianstva maiut prava, preredbacheni statteiu 9 tsioho zakonu,
forma 3 (zvedena), stanom na 1 sichnia 2000,” February 3, 2000; Derzhavnyi Komitet
u spravakh natsionalnostei i mihratsii, “Zvit pro statevo-vikovyi sklad osib z pravom na
sproshchenyi poriadok nabuttia hromadianstva Ukrainy, iaki zhidno z postanovoiu Verk-
hovnoi Rady Ukrainy vid 24.23.1993 r. No. 3819-XII “Pro poriadok vvedennia v diiu
Zakonu Ukrainy “Pro bizhentsiv” do pryinattia rishennia pro ponovlennia iim hromadi-
anstva maiut prava, preredbacheni statteiu 12 tsioho zakonu, forma 4 (zvedena), stanom
na 1 sichnia 2000,” February 3, 2000.
52. The number of developing-world refugees present in Ukraine in the first half of
the 1990s is unknown because the authorities were not registering them and the UNHCR
did not establish a permanent presence in the country until mid-1995. Ukrainian gov-
ernment experts put the estimate at some 5,000 asylum seekers from more than twenty
developing-world countries, 4,500 of them in Kyiv. See Government of Ukraine, “Dok-
lad Ukrainy na konferentsii po problemam bezhentsev, repatriantov, peremeschennykh
lits i migrantov na territorii byvshego SSSR,” 1995, 8, and Olena Malynovska, Mihrat-
236
OXANA SHEVEL
siina sytuatsiia ta mihratsiina polityka v Ukraïni (Kyiv: Natsionalnyi Instytut Strate-
hichnykh Doslidzhen, 1997), 24. In 1994, the UNHCR dispatched a “care and mainte-
nance” mission to Kyiv, which registered 6,000 cases of developing-world refugees, 60
percent of them Afghans, 10 percent Angolans, 8 percent Iraqis, and 8 percent Ethiopi-
ans; see UNHCR Moscow, “Country Operation Plan for Russia, Ukraine and Belarus,”
n.d., section of the report on Ukraine. For detailed analyses of the formation of the
refugee regime in Ukraine in the 1990s, see Olena Malynovska, Bizhentsi u sviti ta v
Ukraini: Modeli vyrishennia problemy (Kyiv: Heneza, 2003); Malynovska, Mihranty,
mihratsiia ta Ukrainska derzhava: Analiz upravlinnia zovnishnimy mihratsiiamy (Kyiv:
Vyd-vo NADU, 2004); Blair A. Ruble, O. A. Malynovs’ka, and O. Braichevs’ka, “Ne-
tradytsiini” immihranty u Kyievi (Kyiv: Stylos, 2003); Shevel, “National Identity and
International Institutions,” chap. 6; and Nikolai Shulga, Velikoie pereselenie: Repatri-
anty, bezhensty, trudovyie migranty (Kyiv: Institut Sotsiologii NAN Ukrainy, 2002).
53. This calculation is from the State Committee for Nationalities and Migration sta-
tistics cited in table 7.3.
54. For an analysis of politics in and around Crimea in the 1990s, see Jane Dawson,
“Ethnicity, Ideology and Geopolitics in Crimea,” Communist and Post-Communist Stud-
ies 30 (1997): 427–44; Gwendolyn Sasse, “Conflict-Prevention in a Transition State: The
Crimean Issue in Post-Soviet Ukraine,” Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 8, no. 2 (2002):
1–26; Oxana Shevel, “Crimean Tatars and the Ukrainian State: The Challenge of Politics,
the Use of Law, and the Meaning of Rhetoric,” Krymski Studii 1, no. 7 (2001): 109–29;
Brian Glyn Williams, The Crimean Tatars: The Diaspora Experience and the Forging of a
Nation (Boston: Brill, 2001); and Andrew Wilson, “Politics in and around Crimea: A Dif-
ficult Homecoming,” in The Tatars of the Crimea: Return to the Homeland: Studies and
Documents, ed. Edward Allworth (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998), 281–322.
55. In addition to the Crimean Tatars, a smaller number of other nationalities (Ar-
menians, Bulgarians, Greeks, and Germans) were deported from Crimea in the 1940s.
Some descendants of these deportees returned in the 1990s. Although politically and
numerically Crimean Tatars were the main concern, the term “formerly deported
people” was coined in Ukraine as a politically more neutral term.
56. For details on UNHCR involvement in Crimea, see UNHCR Ukraine, Overview
of UNHCR’s Citizenship Campaign in Crimea (Simferopol: UNHCR, 2000); UNHCR
Ukraine, “How UNHCR Got Started in Crimea,” Beyond Borders 5 (May 2005): 11, and
Shevel, “National Identity and International Institutions,” chap. 4.
57. For findings of these UNHCR missions, see UNHCR Ukraine, “Mission Report
on Crimean Tatar Situation (7–11 April 1995),” May 18, 1995; UNHCR Ukraine, “UN-
HCR Mission to Crimea: Preliminary Summary,” February 1996; and UNHCR Ukraine,
“UNHCR in Ukraine,” 1999.
58. UNHCR Ukraine, “Summary Mission Report: Assistance to Formerly Deported
Peoples, 3 June–31 July 1996, Crimea, Ukraine,” August 5, 1996. Shelter rehabilitation
projects were chosen as an activity that produces tangible results rather quickly. By
1998, the UNHCR has launched eight shelter rehabilitation projects; Oleg Shamshur,
“Migration Situation in Ukraine: International Cooperation Related Aspects,” Migra-
tion: European Journal on International Migration and Ethnic Relations 29–31 (1998):
29–44. By 1999, it financed and oversaw renovations of thirty hostels, three schools, and
two clinics in Crimea; UNHCR Ukraine, “UNHCR in Ukraine.”
59. This assessment of the UNHCR was echoed by officials from various Ukrainian
Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region 237
government agencies (the Ukrainian Presidential Administration, State Committee for
Nationalities and Migration, Ministry of the Interior, and the Parliament) interviewed by
the author in May–June 1998. Many officials contrasted the UNHCR with other inter-
national agencies and the Western community in general, which in their opinion had of-
fered little practical help.
60. For a description of specific activities UNHCR undertook within citizenship
campaign, see UNHCR Ukraine, Overview of UNHCR’s Citizenship Campaign; and
Hans Schodder, “Assisting the Integration of Formerly Deported People in Crimea: Ten
Years of UNHCR Experience,” Beyond Borders 5 (May 2005): 12–17. For an analysis
of the formerly deported people citizenship problem and the role of international insti-
tutions in solving it, see Oxana Shevel, “International Influence in Transition Societies:
The Effect of UNHCR and Other IOs on Citizenship Policies in Ukraine,” Working Pa-
per 7, Rosemary Rogers Working Paper Series of Inter-University Committee on Inter-
national Migration, August 2000.
61. UNHCR Ukraine, “Summary Mission Report.” UNHCR officials confirm that
they have “capitalized on the positive results of cooperation with the authorities on the
citizenship issue to obtain cooperation on issues of refugee policy.” Author’s interviews,
UNHCR Kyiv, April 15 and June 2, 1998.
62. Author’s interviews, Ukrainian Presidential Administration and State Commit-
tee for Nationalities and Migration, May–June 1998.
63. The term was coined by the senior protection officer of the UNHCR Ukraine of-
fice. See Christoph Bierwirth, “Pravova diialnist Upravlinnia Verkhovnoho Komisara z
pytan bizhenstiv OON v Ukraini: Dosiahnennia i trudnoshchi, shcho zalyshaiutsia,”
Bizhentsi ta mihratsiia: Ukrainskyi chasopys prava i polityky 2, nos. 3–4 (1998): 23–35.
64. Author’s interviews, UNHCR Kyiv, April 1998; and author’s interview with
Sadako Ogata, the UN high commissioner for refugees, Cambridge, Mass., October 24,
2001.
65. The “step-by-step” strategy was described as follows by the senior protection
officer of the UNHCR Ukraine office: “UNHCR has offered targeted assistance and ad-
vocated a step by step approach.... It has focused its efforts on the development of na-
tional legislation and administrative structures, rather than ‘pushing for accession’ to the
Convention.” Bierwirth, “Pravova diialnist Upravlinnia Verkhovnoho Komisara z pytan
bizhenstiv OON v Ukraini,” 24.
66. As a UNHCR senior protection officer noted, “The initial hesitation on the part
of the State Committee of Ukraine for Nationalities and Migration resulting in the ab-
sence of status determination was overcome by specifically targeted material assistance
(technical aid, training, advice) to local migration services such as the Kyiv City Mi-
gration Service. This positive initial experience proved to have a decisive impact on the
nationwide policy of the State Committee for Nationalities and Migration.” Bierwirth,
“Pravova diialnist Upravlinnia Verkhovnoho Komisara z pytan bizhenstiv OON v
Ukraini,” 24.
67. Author’s interview, State Committee of Ukraine for Nationalities and Migration,
June 23, 1998.
68. Olena Malynovska, “Mihratsiina sytuatsia v Ukraini v 1998 rotsi,” 1999; UNHCR
Ukraine, “UNHCR in Ukraine.”
69. Andrew Harper, UNHCR Kyiv program officer, presentation at a December
1998 seminar; UNHCR Ukraine and Creative Center Counterpart, eds., Informatsiia pro
mizhnarodni ta ukrainski instytutsii, shcho zaimaiutsia problemamy bizhentsiv: Ukrainska
238
OXANA SHEVEL
zakonodavcha basa stosovno bizhentsiv, 21–22 hrudnia 1998 roky (Kyiv: UNHCR and
Counterpart, 1998), 11. UNHCR positively commented on Ukraine’s refugee policy on
numerous occasions. See, e.g., the 1997 speech by Sadako Ogata, UNHCR high com-
missioner in Kyiv, reprinted in Bizhentsi ta mihratsiia: Ukrainskyi chasopys prava i poli-
tyky 3, no. 1 (1997): 7–10. Also see Sadako Ogata’s letter to President Kuchma; Sadako
Ogata, UN high commissioner for refugees, “Letter to His Excellency Mr. Leonid
Kuchma, President of Ukraine,” September 28, 2000; and articles by Christoph Bier-
wirth, the UNHCR Kyiv senior protection officer: Bierwirth, “The Need for a Consoli-
dated Ukrainian Migration and Refugee Policy,” Ukrainskyi chasopys prav liudyny 1,
no. 1 (1997): 13–18; and Bierwirth, “Pravova dialnist Upravlinnia Verkhovnoho Komis-
ara z pytan’ bizhenstiv OON v Ukraini.”
70. E.g., Mykola Shulha, minister of Ukraine for nationalities and migration in
1994–95, noted as “symbolic” the fact that Ukraine’s first refugee certificate was issued
to an Afghan rather than a Ukrainian. Shulha notes with dismay that of Ukrainians who
fled to Ukraine from conflict zones in the former Soviet states “only a few individuals
received refugee status,” while the rest are “left to fend for themselves.” Shulha, “Im-
mihratsiia v Ukrainy etnichnykh grup u 1991–1996 pp,” Bizhentsi ta mihratsiia: Ukrain-
skyi chasopys prava i polityky 3, no. 1 (1999): 11–23; the quotation is on 15. In a 1998
paper, Oleh Shamshur, then deputy head of the State Committee for Nationalities and
Migration, likewise lamented the absence of policies to assist ethnic Ukrainian re-
turnees: “One has to acknowledge that, unfortunately, problems of the repatriates (with
the exception of Crimean Tatars) remain on the periphery of government activities.
Sometimes the repatriates are worse off than refugees and asylum seekers who can count
on some aid from the UNHCR and other international organizations. It can hardly be
considered a normal situation, especially given worrying demographic trends in
Ukraine.” Shamshur, “Rehuliuvannia mihratsiinykh protsessiv v Ukraini: Suchasni ten-
dentsii,” 1998 (unpublished manuscript).
71. Pravda Ukrainy, December 3, 1997. In Ukrainian: “Iakshcho vzhe buty bizhent-
sem v Ukraini, to krashche—v shkuri nehra.”
72. UNHCR Ukraine, “Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Ukraine,” January 1,
2002.
73. At the height of the citizenship campaign in 1998, the UNHCR Kyiv office an-
nual budget was $4 million. Its budget for 2002–3 dropped by almost 50 percent, to $2.5
million for two years. UNHCR Ukraine, “Diialnist UVKB OON ta ioho vykonavchykh
partneriv,” 2004, http://www.unhcr.org.ua.
74. The European Commission earmarked 1.4 million euros for the project in
2003–4, and for 2005 the UNHCR Kyiv office budget was increased to $2.1 million
(with $390,000 coming from the European Commission). With increased budgetary ca-
pacity, the UNHCR is financing construction of additional housing facilities for asylum
seekers in different regions of Ukraine during 2004 and 2005. UNHCR Ukraine, “Di-
ialnist UVKB OON.”
75. In the first half of 2004, the refugee recognition rate stood at 14 percent—a sig-
nificant increase in comparison with the 3 percent rate for the period from the fall
of 2002, when refugee status determination procedure resumed in Ukraine, and until
the end of 2003, but still much lower than 50 percent recognition rate for 1996–2001.
UNHCR Ukraine, “Basic Facts about Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Ukraine,” Be-
yond Borders 3 (September 2004): 4.
76. For UNHCR opinion on the 2001 Ukrainian refugee law and amendments it de-
Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region 239
sires to see, see Guy Ouellet, “Ukrainian Legislation and the Refugee Problem,” Beyond
Borders 2 (May 2004): 4–6.
77. For this argument, see Lucan Way, “Authoritarian State Building and the
Sources of Political Liberalization in the Western former Soviet Union, 1994–2004,”
World Politics 57 (January 2005), 231–61.
240
OXANA SHEVEL
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Tolz, Russia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), chapter 8; and Oxana Shevel, " National Identity and International Institutions: Refugee Policies in Post-Com-munist Europe. " Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 2002, chapter 3. 21. Although the 1991 citizenship law made no explicit mention of ethnic Russians Nation Building and Refugee Protection in the Post-Soviet Region