A year of the conflict in Ukraine - Montenegro continues to stand with the people forced to flee
16 March 2023
Although Montenegro does not share its borders with Ukraine, since 24 February 2022, over 95,000 Ukrainians arrived in the country.
Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine on 24 February 2022, more than 13 million people remain uprooted from their homes, causing one of the largest population displacements in Europe since the Second World War.
With no end of the conflict in sight, many European countries have wholeheartedly provided assistance to people forced to flee, including a small country on the Balkan peninsula, Montenegro. On 11 March 2022, the Government of Montenegro activated the Temporary Protection (TP) for persons fleeing Ukraine for up to 1 year.
Although Montenegro does not share its borders with Ukraine, since 24 February 2022, over 95,000 Ukrainians arrived in the country. Cultural similarities, people’s altruism and Montenegro’s open-door policy created a feeling of safety for more than 34,000 Ukrainians who decided to stay – a staggering 5% of the country’s population, out of whom more than 8,000 applied for temporary protection. For sense of scale and burden on Montenegro, a country that does not have access to the EU funds as it is not an EU member state, this would equal to Poland hosting 1.9 million refugees or France hosting 3.4 million refugees.
On 15 February 2023, the Government of Montenegro adopted the Decision to extend the TP for Ukrainian refugees until 11 March 2024 and expand the scope of people benefiting from this protection regime. Beside the Ukrainian citizens, persons granted international protection in Ukraine and persons granted stateless status in Ukraine, as per the new Decision, Ukrainians who used to have some residence in Montenegro prior to 24 February can now also apply for temporary protection. In line with the new Decision all TP holders are invited to approach the Ministry of Interior (MoI) branch offices, in their place of residence, to replace TP certificates. UNHCR, in close collaboration with its partners, local NGO Civic Alliance and Red Cross of Montenegro, as well as through the network of Ukrainian volunteers organized by the Embassy of Ukraine in Montenegro, increased field presence to spread the information to all TP holders and to support both TP holders and MoI to complete the procedure in a timely manner.
On 3 March 2023, UNHCR organized the transportation for 30 refugees from the state-provided accommodation, the Hotel Sato in coastal city of Sutomore to the local branch offices of the Ministry of Interior in the neighboring city of Bar. The assistance by UNHCR and its partners was critical in ensuring the refugee population does not fall into legal precarity if they do not meet the deadline for extension.
Olga, a 38-year-old refugee mother from Ukraine, said: “We cannot be thankful enough to people and the state of Montenegro for providing us warm and safe home for the past one year. Leaving Ukraine was the hardest decision I had to take, but safety of my children was indisputable. Montenegro, we see as our second home and we will never forget the kindness and generosity shown to us, as well as today when extending our stay.”
Since 24 February, UNHCR Montenegro has provided support both to the authorities and to all people seeking shelter in the country due to the war in Ukraine. The office has supported the authorities in the response to the refugee crisis, strengthening its capacities and ensuring timely processing of TP applications, while ensuring Ukrainian refugees have unimpeded access to rights, particularly healthcare, education, employment and social care as well as psychosocial assistance.
“Montenegro took a tremendous burden amidst the growing global economic uncertainties by maintaining the open-door policy to those persons forcibly fleeing from Ukraine. The decision to trigger the Temporary Protection regime in 2022 and its recent decision to extend it for another year, to provide a sound legal basis for the protection and inclusion of Ukrainians, have been a remarkable example of humanitarianism. These results testify to the indispensable partnership between UNHCR and Montenegro in upholding the international humanitarian law and the respective high ambitions for protecting those forced to flee” said Jean-Yves Bouchardy, UNHCR Representative in Montenegro.
UNHCR will continue supporting the Ukrainian population opting to seek safety in Montenegro, as well as cooperating with the state institutions and partners to ensure that no one is left behind.