15:01 11.03.2024

UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) survey: Proportion of people wishing to return home drops to 65% among refugees, 72% among IDPs

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The share of refugees who hope to return home has decreased to 65% from 77%, internally displaced persons (IDPs) from 84% to 72%, the Office of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said, following a survey conducted in January and February of this year's survey, comparing it with the survey in April and May in 2023.

If less than a year ago, 14% of refugees and 15% of IDPs reported plans to return home permanently in the next three months, now only 6% of refugees and 5% of IDPs report such plans within 12 months.

However, the number of refugees who have neither a plan nor hope of returning has almost doubled during this time – from 6% to 11%, IDPs – from 12% to 15%, and those who have not decided whether to return in the future – from 18% to 24% and from 6% to 12%, respectively.

"Return intentions differ according to several factors, in particular: proximity of host countries (for refugees); situation in places of origin (e.g. relatives and/or property remaining in Ukraine), demographic characteristics / vulnerabilities (in particular dependency ratio) and prospects for socio-economic inclusion in host countries or displacement areas (e.g. participation in labour market)," according to the study.

In particular, refugees located in countries neighboring Ukraine have more plans and hopes to return (75%) compared to those living in other European countries (62%); originally from Chernihiv, Kherson or Sumy regions (more than 76% in each) as opposed to Poltava, Zakarpattia or Kyiv (60% or less in each); those whose husband and/or sons/daughters are still in Ukraine (72%) compared to those who have no immediate relatives (57%) and those who have a whole or partially damaged house in their place of origin ( 67%), compared to those who are homeless (60%).

In addition, included in this series are households that consist only of older people (79%) or have more than two dependents per adult (76%) as opposed to those with no dependents (61%); not working in their current country of residence (77%) compared to those working or looking for work (62%).

According to the survey, among those whose previous plans to return permanently did not materialize, the vast majority (81% of refugees and 76% of IDPs) indicated that the main reason was the deterioration of the security situation in Ukraine and/or in their place of origin. Other reasons reported – more often by refugees than IDPs – were concerns about economic opportunities in Ukraine (18% and 6% respectively) and damaged or inaccessible property (20% and 7% respectively).

Among those who had previously hoped to return one day but were now undecided or reported no hope of returning, uncertainty about the end of full-scale war was a major factor (65% of refugees and 41% of IDPs), together with a perceived worsening of the security situation in Ukraine and/or at their place of origin (47% and 52%, respectively). Other reasons frequently reported (especially among refugees) were deteriorating economic opportunities in Ukraine (37% of refugees and 17% of IDPs), their concern about lack of sufficient support or resources for return (27% and 7% respectively), and because their property was damaged or inaccessible (23% and 12% respectively).

However, many refugees and IDPs would finally return to Ukraine if a full-scale war were to end within the next 12 months (35% of refugees and 43% of IDPs). The majority (58% and 49% respectively) cite some uncertainty, indicating that the decision to return also depends on other factors or circumstances.

In addition to the end of a full-scale war, the main factors or conditions that would influence the decision to return included access to work (42% of refugees and 18% of IDPs), the end of occupation (34% and 28% respectively) and access to their property or alternative housing (23% and 26% respectively). Having sufficient resources or support for return (18% of refugees and 4% of IDPs) and the ability to reunite with relatives (17% and 8% respectively) are also among the top five factors for return.

The main barriers or reasons reported by those who would not return, even if full-scale war were to end, also related to concerns about economic opportunities in areas of return (49% of refugees and 20% of IDPs) and concerns about continued occupation of territory (21% and 23%, respectively). For IDPs, worry about their property or housing in areas of origin (destroyed or inaccessible) is also an important obstacle: 34% versus 12% among refugees.

According to the study, the main reasons refugees give for planning a return in the near future are similar to previous rounds: the desire to return to their cultural environment (55%) and the desire to reunite with relatives (35%). For IDPs, the main reason for returning is concern for their property (28%) and the desire to reunite with relatives (21%).

In the event that full-scale war continues over the next 12 months, a significant proportion of refugees (60%) indicate that they may be forced to return, even if it is not their first choice, if they encounter problems accessing rights and services in host countries. In particular, related to uncertain legal status or lack of employment opportunities. Among IDPs, less than a quarter (23%) experience difficulties in areas of displacement, particularly related to problems finding stable housing or lack of employment opportunities.

According to updated UNHCR data, the number of Ukrainian refugees in Europe as of February 15 of this year was estimated at 6.004 million, and in the world as a whole – at 6.480 million, which is 29,000 and 30,000 more, respectively, than at the beginning of the year.

In Ukraine itself, according to the UN, there were 3.674 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) as of November 6, compared to the previous estimate of 5.088 million. "This (such a significant decrease) is not due to a significant return of IDPs, but rather primarily changing the methodology for calculating their numbers. The new base population figure used to extrapolate IDP estimates now takes into account the absence of approximately 6.2 million refugees from Ukraine who are no longer in the country," UNHCR said.