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Social Work and the war in Ukraine - update 18th May 2022

Ukraine and other wars, general update, creating new guidance, experiences of social work across borders (IFSW report) and Roma in Ukraine

Ukraine and other wars

The war in Ukraine continues and we see, hear and read about it’s changing phases and the many terrible impacts on the civilian population. We remember also this is not the only awful war or military violence in the world and not the only reason why refugees are fleeing across borders. 

BASW will continue to promote refugee rights and humane policies for all refugees and asylum seekers and continues our opposition to many provisions in the Nationality and Borders Act passed on 28th April, including the powers to ‘offshore’ people seeking asylum (to Rwanda) and to criminalise forms of seeking asylum in contravention of international law.

We will continue to provide regular updates on the Ukraine refugee and war situation with a focus on social work issues as new information becomes available and as we develop further advice and guidance for social workers. Through this work on the Ukraine crisis, we hope to further inform and raise awareness of all refugee issues.

Here is a round up from the last three weeks on the Ukraine situation which includes information directly from social work colleagues working on the borders.

General update on Ukraine

Refugees

The Westminster government has started publishing numbers for visas and arrivals from Ukraine.  Only around 1 in 5 of those who have secured a visa have managed to find a home here.

There are still no moves to create a more safe “matching” scheme for the Homes for Ukraine scheme which matches people (usually) with stranger sponsors.

There are increasing incidents of breakdown of sponsorship rendering people (individuals and families) homeless and a responsibility of the local authority as highlighted recently in a Guardian news article:  Ukraine refugees homeless in UK after falling out with hosts, say community groups.   

Members are reporting some instances of this in their localities.

Some Ukrainians are coming to the UK outside of the schemes and seeking asylum and the visa system isn’t always taking families as a unit, e.g. a mother was given a visa but the child’s visa was late and incorrect.  There has been criticism in Parliament about the schemes and visa arrangements.

On 19th April, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities wrote to all local authority chief executives to remind them of their commitments to assist.  There was, however, no mention of how this commitment would be resourced or funded.

BASW action

BASWs International development Fund (IDF) has donated £10k to the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) Europe which has been coordinating medical supplies and other equipment being delivered via social workers in Ukraine. This has been arranged by IFSW President Ana Radulescu, currently working on the Ukraine/Romania border. Further information on the IFSW activities and plans and use of BASW’s donation in the IFSW Europe are provided below.

Campaigns and lobbying continue to try to influence the government response to the crisis: BASW wrote to Michael Gove about the poor safeguards within the Homes for Ukraine Scheme on 6 April. There is still no response to the open letter.

Will continue to hold regular in-house BASW meetings with members of Council and lead staff, plus monthly, open members meetings for as long as they are needed.

Creating guidance and resources for social workers: Members working group

Through two open meetings with members, we have established a working group to pull together the best of emerging social work guidance and resources and to create BASW outputs for sharing with members and other social workers.

The first meeting will be in early June. If anyone wants to be involved in the working group please email policyadmin@basw.co.uk Please also email if you want to know more about the members’ meetings.

Experiences of social work on the borders and in Ukraine: report from the IFSW Europe meeting 15 May 2022

As a side meeting to the Global IFSW annual General Meeting online, IFSW Europe met and heard about the work of colleagues in Romania, Hungary, Poland and Moldova.

The emerging picture is that the generic humanitarian relief organisations have left or are leaving, and the need to resource and strengthen core social work services in the border countries and in Ukraine is coming to the fore; social work will be needed for the long term alongside long term health, education and other public sector services. 

The thinking of the IFSW Europe President, who has been directly leading a lot of the work at the border in Romania, supported by the discussion with all the European associations, is that we need to focus now on building resilience for the long term in countries receiving refugees and rebuilding in Ukraine. This includes recognising that some of the people being evacuated from Ukraine with (e.g.) learning and physical disabilities and mental health conditions are coming out of very poor institutional settings, pointing to the pre-existing need for social and health service developments on top of immediate support and protections, and rebuilding from war.

The IFSW Ukraine fund now stands at 49000 euros from donations. A small group from IFSW Europe associations with experience at the borders, with the direct input of Ukrainian social workers, academics and managers, will work on the next phase of IFSW Europe’s spending and social work development activities, with a focus on social work for the medium and long term, and post-trauma recovery and growth.

We will keep members updated on European social work developments.

Roma in Ukraine: an example of upholding legal rights in the midst of war

The large, ethnic Roma populations across Eastern Europe experience high levels of racism, marginalisation, discrimination, poor health, poor education and poverty. Up to 400,000 Roma may have been in Ukraine at the start of the war, some have now left as refugees. Lack of identity papers for some Roma people has hampered seeking refuge and we have also heard reports of racism against Roma people seeking refuge at the borders.  

With thanks to BASW Cymru National Director Allison Hulmes, we bring a positive story about a still-functioning court in Ukraine ruling in favour of the rights of a Romani family and their child who wanted to attend an integrated school rather than a segregated Romani school.  The case was brought by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and shows how rights – specifically social as well as human rights - advocacy can still happen and is still crucial even in a war zone.

Brussels, 29 April 2022: The Eighth Appeal Administrative court has found in favour of a Romani mother whose two children were denied access to an integrated school in Uzhgorod and told they must attend a segregated, Roma-only school instead. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) brought a case on 24th May 2021 against Uzhgorod City Council on behalf of Ljudmila Churej, concerning a city council decision which artificially divided two schools’ catchment areas to ensure Romani children from the Telmana Street neighbourhood attended only a segregated school. The ruling of the 18th April 2022 overturned a negative first instance Administrative Court decision and finds the city council practice to be discriminatory. 

One side of Telmana Street in Uzhgorod is home to a majority-Roma neighbourhood, where the standard of housing is visibly poor: many houses are not officially registered, many have limited or no access to public water and sewerage. The houses on the other side belong mostly to non-Roma, where they generally live in much better conditions. The discriminatory city council decisions from 2017 meant that children living in even-numbered houses on Telmana Street (the non-Romani side) were enrolled in the mainstream “School No.7”, while those living in odd-numbered houses (the Romani side) were enrolled in the 100% segregated “School No.13”. The quality of education in the segregated school is of a significantly lower standard than other schools in the city, as mentioned by the Court in its judgment where it noted that “secondary school №13 enrols only Roma children, whose level of education is much lower than in other educational institutions.” As a result of the judgment, the City Council have removed the division of the street, and Romani parents are free to enrol their children in the mainstream “School No.7”.

Ljudmila Churej, the 41-year-old Romani mother who was represented in the case by the ERRC, said that despite the ongoing war she is pleased that Romani children from her neighbourhood will be given the opportunity for a non-segregated education:

“I had eight years of education and I understand that it was not enough and I should have continued my studies, but my parents thought differently. I want my children to have a normal education, the same as any other child attending mainstream school. I want my children to go to a better school than our ‘Roma school’. The teaching at School No.7 is better, the children are more clever. I want my children to have a future. During the war it is a difficult question – if there would be no war I would start collecting documents for the enrolment of my children to School  No.7. I hope the war shall end and my kids will start learning in the mainstream school.”

The ERRC’s President Đorđe Jovanović commended the Court for its decision, which he said demonstrated a respect for equality and non-discrimination during a time when most would not imagine such issues to be a priority:

“This judgment, issued during a time of war, sends an important message that the rule of law is not dead in Ukraine; that there are judicial bodies willing to rule against racial segregation and discrimination of Roma, even as cities are being reduced to rubble. The Roma of Ukraine have larger concerns at the moment – however this judgment may provide some hope, that in future there will be a rebuilding which will include those institutions that remained true to protecting human rights and condemning discrimination.”

The City Council of Uzhgorod has 30 days from the date of the judgment to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Ukraine.

The activity was delivered within ‘Justice for Roma in Ukraine’ co-financed by the European Union. This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of European Roma Rights Centre and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.