Ensuring access to territory, asylum procedures and adequate reception
A temporary easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions saw arrivals in southern Europe return to pre-pandemic levels. Thousands of migrants and refugees arrived legally in Belarus with the intention to move onward to the European Union. However, authorities in neighbouring EU countries declared states of emergency in border areas, constructed border barriers and enacted legal amendments restraining access to asylum. UNHCR stepped up its advocacy and operational response to address humanitarian and protection concerns at the borders. The Office intervened with concerned national authorities and the EU to discuss access to asylum for people in need in accordance with international refugee law standards. UNHCR sought solutions based on individuals’ personal situations and provided counselling and basic emergency assistance, helping authorities and partners meet the urgent needs of several thousand people stranded in precarious conditions along border areas.
Overall, 28,000 people of concern received legal assistance and 60,000 were provided with information on status determination procedures. Efforts to assist with identification of protection needs among arrivals, including children and survivors of gender-based violence, continued in key locations in Italy and Spain, and support was provided for improving reception conditions, notably in Cyprus. Over 37,000 people of concern across Europe benefited from improved reception conditions. Onward movements within and towards Europe were a critical policy challenge for destination and transit States. The “Strategy for UNHCR Engagement in mixed movement in the Western Balkans” was updated to support the strengthening of asylum systems and identification of viable solutions for refugees and asylum seekers.
Building and maintaining effective community-based protection
UNHCR worked closely with partners, including civil society, to ensure inclusion of people of concern in national vaccination plans, public health responses and social protection schemes. UNHCR and partners delivered information sessions on COVID-19 preventive measures and vaccination in collective accommodation, for example in Armenia, Bulgaria and Romania, where UNHCR also set up hotlines for COVID-19-related questions. To mitigate the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the livelihoods of refugees and asylum seekers, cash assistance benefited over 382,000 individuals in eastern and south-eastern Europe and the South Caucasus. Across the region, 635 refugee-led and community-based organizations were supported – a 690% increase from 80 in 2020.
UNHCR and the European Coalition of Migrants and Refugees organized Refugee Re-Connect in September 2021, a regional conference on refugee leadership, participation and volunteerism that brought together 175 refugee-led organizations, leaders and activists from 27 countries. Concrete recommendations on refugee leadership and participation, civic engagement and access to the labour market were addressed to local and national actors, civil society, donors and international organizations.
Securing solutions for refugees and internally displaced people
In Greece, the EU-funded “Emergency support to integration and accommodation” programme was handed over to the Government, with transition of the accommodation component. 16 European countries pledged 1,587 places for the relocation of unaccompanied children and 3,288 places for other vulnerable persons. UNHCR and the Government of Serbia signed a memorandum of understanding on joint activities to promote the economic inclusion of refugees and asylum seekers. With the support of UNHCR, IKEA INGKA expanded its “skills for employment” (S4E) initiative to 10 more countries in Europe, providing training to refugees and strengthening their socioeconomic inclusion. To promote access to decent employment for forcibly displaced people, UNHCR and ILO developed a project to identify sectors where economic inclusion could be enhanced. UNHCR supported the empowerment of IDP communities involved in direct advocacy with local authorities over housing solutions. In Georgia, UNHCR maintained its support for a “humanitarian corridor” allowing vulnerable individuals residing in Abkhazia to travel to access pensions, benefits and allowances, and to buy essential medicines through mobile services. In Bulgaria, a financial inclusion workshop enabled refugees to start accessing microcredit. In Ukraine, progress was made during the reporting period with the development of a refugee integration strategy for 2022 and beyond, for which UNHCR mapped integration needs and opportunities.
UNHCR and the Migration Policy Group and integration stakeholders from seven pilot countries developed a toolkit for municipalities, “Effective inclusion of refugees: participatory approaches for practitioners at the local level”.
Preventing, addressing and resolving statelessness
With Iceland's accession to both of the United Nations statelessness instruments in January 2021, the number of States in Europe that are party to the 1954 and 1961 statelessness conventions rose to 40 and 34, respectively. In March 2021, the European Commission adopted the first comprehensive “EU strategy on the rights of the child”, explicitly recognizing the special needs of stateless children and urging European Union member States to ensure access to birth registration for all children.
UNHCR’s advocacy on establishing and improving existing statelessness determination procedures (SDPs) started bearing fruit. Ukraine started implementing its new procedures in May 2021 and Albania’s Law on Aliens entered into force in November 2021, paving the way for dedicated statelessness procedures. At conference in Montenegro, discussion of procedural aspects and access to rights fed into upcoming law reforms to strengthen Montenegro’s procedures.
Increased advocacy with regional organizations in the lead-up to the High-Level Officials Meeting in December 2021 and around the 60th anniversary of the 1961 Convention included the organization of several events in collaboration with regional actors like the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. An international conference on statelessness, jointly convened by the Council of Europe and UNHCR in Strasbourg, gave additional impetus to the goals of the Global Action Plan to End Statelessness.
Strengthening evidence-based external engagement
In the spirit of a whole-of-society approach, UNHCR strengthened partnerships with civil society across Europe, including faith-based organizations, NGOs and refugee-led organizations. A new partnership with the European Football Association (UEFA) facilitated joint advocacy activities in stadiums during the Euro 2021 tournament. Stronger partnerships were pursued through NGO dialogues and consultations jointly organized with the European Council on Refugees and Exiles and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies. At the regional level, the Office was actively engaged in inter-agency processes, co-chairing the Issue-based Coalition on Large Movements of People, Displacement and Resilience with IOM. This resulted in the development of key advocacy messages in support of the inclusion of refugees and migrants in COVID-19 vaccination campaigns across the continent. Lastly, in support of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, and the reform of the United Nations Development System, UNHCR worked with Resident Coordinators and United Nations country teams in support of the development of high-quality United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks and Common Country Analyses in six countries (Albania, Moldova, Serbia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) in 2021.