‘Frightening conditions’: Aid staff face logistical hurdles, urge Ukraine ceasefire
March 14 2022:
Al Arabiya English
Rescuers work next to a residential building damaged by shelling, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine, in this handout picture released March 14, 2022. (Reuters)Russia Ukraine conflict
Humanitarian organizations are facing logistical hurdles in delivering and providing aid to Ukrainians in need as the Russian invasion of the country enters its 19th day, a spokesperson from the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR told Al Arabiya English, adding that aid staff have been working in “frightening conditions.”
“Inside Ukraine itself, our staff – and other humanitarians – are working where and when they can in frightening conditions because we know that the needs in the country are huge. But the constant violence is making movement around the country very difficult and restricting our ability to get help to those who need it,” Matthew Saltmarsh, Head of News and Media at the UNHCR, said in an interview with Al Arabiya English.
“We have propositioned stocks of relief items in various locations across and have delivered support in recent days,” he added. “UNHCR continues to support local authorities to establish reception centers, particularly in Lviv, Usghorod and Ivano-Frankivsk which are serving as transit hubs for further movements abroad and we are feeding people in queues.”
In Vinnytsya, the UNHCR is also helping the relevant authorities develop a “referral roadmap for newly arriving IDPs [Internally displaced persons] to identify vulnerable groups and coordinate assistance with the local NGOs providing services.”
Canadian Forces personnel load lethal and non-lethal aid to be sent to Ukraine, on a transport aircraft bound for Poland, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at CFB Trenton in Trenton, Ontario, Canada, March 7, 2022. (Reuters)
The UN refugee agency also launched a “Protection Monitoring Tool” which allows identification of key protection risks and needs of the people affected.
Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians are now facing extreme or total shortages of basic necessities like food, water and medicine, according to a statement released by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Sunday.
People of all ages, including the Red Cross’s staff, are reportedly sheltering in unheated basements, risking their lives to make short runs outside for food and water.
“Dead bodies, of civilians and combatants, remain trapped under the rubble or lying in the open where they fell. Life-changing injuries and chronic, debilitating conditions cannot be treated. The human suffering is simply immense,” the statement read.
A child fleeing from Ukraine sleeps inside a temporary shelter after Ukrainian refugees disembarked a train which brought them from the border after fleeing from Ukraine following the Russian invasion, in Bucharest, Romania, March 13, 2022. (Reuters)
The UNHCR estimates that over four million people could flee Ukraine and seek protection and support elsewhere in the region. The agency’s Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRP), which outlines the comprehensive response and activities to support countries’ efforts to protect and assist refugees coming from Ukraine, aims to assist at least 2.4 million refugees and asylum seekers in neighboring countries.
Saltmarsh said that the main urgent needs identified were fuel, cash, medicine, and shelter materials to reinforce bunkers.
“The situation is fluid, but structures are improving. We are supporting the setup of reception facilities, protection monitoring and reinforcing existing supplies and capacity to help with the refugee movements,” he told Al Arabiya English.
The inter-agency RRP plan will include a multi-sectoral approach to focus on protection, shelter, material, and cash assistance for the vulnerable groups involved, supporting government-led initiatives and efforts.
Europe’s ‘fastest-moving refugee crisis since WWII’
The ICRC last week warned of “massive” displacement and needs inside the war-ravaged country and in neighboring nations, according to an AFP.
A Ukrainian man embraces his daughter while waiting with his family for a humanitarian visa outside the San Ysidro Port of Entry of the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico March 11, 2022. (Reuters)
“The conflict in Ukraine is shaping up to be one of the biggest humanitarian emergencies in Europe for years to come,” Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told reporters in Geneva. “The displacement and needs are massive and will likely grow, both inside and outside of Ukraine.”
An unending stream of people – mostly women and children – has poured into neighboring countries in what the UN calls Europe’s fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II.
Governments and local communities in the surrounding Eastern European region have offered a helping hand to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.
Red Cross volunteers in Ukraine and in neighboring countries were also providing life-saving assistance like first aid, shelter and medical supplies, while tending to hundreds of thousands of people crossing the borders, AFP reported last week.
“Outside Ukraine, the response from governments in the region, as well as local communities and ordinary citizens, has been remarkable,” said Saltmarsh, adding that the UNHCR was already in the region but is now focusing on scaling up its staff’s protection and assistance programs for refugees.
Russia, which denies attacking civilian areas, calls the attack it launched on February 24 a “special military operation,” saying it has no plans to occupy Ukraine. Following this, Ukrainians have poured into Romania, Slovakia and Poland, among others.
A German Red Cross (DRK) employee operates a forklift with humanitarian supplies to load for a first aid transport to Poland for those fleeing Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, at the DRK logistics center in Schoenefeld near Berlin, Germany, March 1, 2022. (Reuters)
“We are present at the borders in Poland, Romania, Moldova, and Hungary and are coordinating with government authorities and partner organizations in all neighboring countries,” he explained.
“All neighboring countries have to date commendably kept their borders open for refugees fleeing Ukraine. This is the fastest moving refugee crisis we have seen in Europe since the end of World War II and UNHCR is mobilizing to respond as quickly and effectively as possible.”
Saltmarsh said people have supplied food, blankets and accommodation for refugees fleeing Ukraine.
“We have been immensely heartened by the response of local communities in the countries bordering Ukraine. We have seen people supplying food, blankets, accommodation – some in their own homes- free transport, legal advice, psychological counseling and more,” he told Al Arabiya English.
Accounts of harassment, violence against Ukrainian refugees
Despite the warm welcomes neighboring countries have shown, there have been several accounts of harassment and violence against refugees fleeing Ukraine, which Saltmarsh said was “totally unacceptable.”
“We condemn racism and discrimination of any kind against any person or group and call for those responsible to be brought to justice and held accountable by the relevant national authorities. UNHCR urges governments to continue to maintain access to territory for all those fleeing: Ukrainians, and third country nationals living in Ukraine, who are now forced to escape the violence. We stress that there must be no discrimination against any person or group.”
“[We] very warmly welcome the EU’s recent decision to apply the Temporary Protection Directive,” he said, adding that it will ensure refugees are admitted “swiftly” to an EU member state’s territory and “receive protected status immediately” without needing to undergo an individual refugee status determination process.
“This is precisely the kind of swift and protection-oriented approach that UNHCR advocates for in crisis situations.”
The EU has agreed to grant Ukrainian refugees fleeing the invasion temporary residency, permitting them access to employment, housing for up to three years, and social welfare.
“The ICRC appeals to the parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law. Civilians who do not take part in hostilities, civilian infrastructure, hospitals and medical personnel cannot be targeted. The parties must do everything in their power to avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas and protect civilians against the effects of attacks. Civilians must be allowed to escape the fighting, whether a formal safe passageway has been agreed to or not,” the ICRC statement added.
“Time is running out for the hundreds of thousands trapped by the fighting. History will look back at what is now happening in Mariupol with horror if no agreement is reached by the sides as quickly as possible.”
The president of the ICRC called on all parties involved to “place humanitarian imperatives first.”
Ukrainian refugees who have nowhere to go, after arriving by bus from Przemysl, speak at the International Youth Meeting Center, around two kilometres away from the former Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, where they are provided with temporary accommodation, in Oswiecim, Poland, March 13, 2022 (Reuters)
“We call on all parties involved in the fighting to place humanitarian imperatives first. People in Mariupol have endured a weeks-long life-and-death nightmare. This needs to stop now. Their safety and their access to food, water and shelter must be guaranteed,” ICRC President Peter Maurer told Al Arabiya English.
“The sound of warfare is constant. Buildings are struck, and shrapnel flies everywhere. This is the situation every person in the city faces,” said ICRC’s operational leader in Mariupol, Sasha Volkov.
“To alleviate this misery and prevent further tragedy, a concrete, precise, actionable agreement is needed without delay so that civilians who wish to leave can reach safety, and for live-saving aid to reach those who cannot leave or who wish to stay.”
The aftermath of Russian artillery shelling on a residential area in Mariupol where a rocket hit a house, according to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Mariupol, Ukraine, is seen in this screengrab from a video uploaded on social media on March 10, 2022. (Reuters)
The ICRC urged all those participating in the fighting to agree to the modalities and timing of a ceasefire, the exact locations of the safe passage route, and then ensure that the agreement is respected.
“There must be enough advance notice to ensure the information is effectively disseminated through the military chain of command as well as to the civilian population, especially given that communication and power networks are unreliable or down. Importantly, the parties would also need to clear roads of any obstacle preventing safe passage. The ICRC stands ready to act as a neutral intermediary to facilitate dialogue on such humanitarian issues,” the statement added.
The ICRC statement comes as people stuck in the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol face grave danger if the fighting parties do not reach a “concrete humanitarian agreement.”
The Azov Sea port city of around half a million has been under siege since early this month. More than 2,100 residents have been killed since hostilities began, the local authorities told AFP on Sunday.