The invisible plight of people living in collective centres in Ukraine
Soon after the outbreak of the conflict in 2014, the Government of Ukraine, with the support of the humanitarian community, established temporary housing solutions for internally displaced people.
Known as “collective centers,” these communal shelters, located in public buildings, and in “modular trailers“ were initially designed to serve as a short, transitional measure until a permanent housing solution was found. Many families managed to use these centers as temporary stop-gap measures, before moving into housing in host communities or returning to their places of origin. However, it is estimated that some 6,000 people stayed behind and continue to live there, six years later, in gravely deteriorating living conditions.
The recently released report by Right to Protection assesses the conditions of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) living in these centers, including so-called “modular towns.” According to the report, which covered 41 collective centers across the country, these “towns,” built with modular trailers found in many oblasts across Ukraine, are no longer suitable for living, having been designed to serve for three years only, until 2018.
Despite efforts by the Government to improve the conditions at the collective centres, the roofs of the trailers are leaking, and appliances are suffering from wear and tear. The facilities, including bathrooms and kitchens, are largely insufficient and inadequate, with the survey noting that residents are often forced to accommodate their cooking needs within their tiny rooms, in many cases shared with other people. With little insulation, families experience extreme weather conditions in summer as in winter. Yet, three in four IDPs living in collective centers still call these modular towns their homes.
Not a matter of choice, but a lack of choice The IDPs continue living in collective centers because they simply do not have a place to return. Almost half of the residents declare that their homes have been destroyed or are damaged, or that active conflict prevents them from going back. Many just do not have the means to afford an alternative. Having exhausted all their assets, IDPs living in collective centers survive on social payments (many are economically inactive, including due to disabilities and illness), and for those who work – salaries are insufficient. Almost 40 percent of residents are pensioners, relying on meager pensions.
Durable housing solutions are urgently required to improve the situation of those trapped in these conditions. The National Strategy and Action Plan on Internal Displacement envisage housing solutions to foster inclusion into communities. But the Plan, which expires in 2020, needs to be extended and strengthened in its implementation, with adequate state budgetary support, as well as an approach that cuts across all relevant state ministries and entities.
The availability of affordable housing is crucial for the integration of internally displaced and for creating opportunities for a dignified living. Humanitarian actors continue to support conflict-affected people in eastern Ukraine by addressing their acute humanitarian needs. But the role of the Ukrainian Government and its commitment to improving the lives of internally displaced people is central to finding solutions that go beyond addressing today’s immediate needs.