KYIV (Reuters) – Russia is violating wartime “fundamental principles of child protection” by giving Ukrainian children Russian passports and putting them up for adoption, the head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) told Reuters. ) In an interview.
Speaking at the UNHCR offices in Kyiv after a six-day tour of the country, Filippo Grandi said Ukraine’s president had called on his agency to “do more” to help children in the occupied regions who were being this happening.
“Giving them (Russian) nationality or adopting them goes against the fundamental principles of child protection in war situations,” Grandi said.
“This is something that is happening in Russia and it must not happen,” he added.
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President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, speaking after his meeting with Grandi on Wednesday, called for mechanisms to “defend and return” deported children and adults to Russia, as well as to punish those responsible.
Grandi said his agency was unable to estimate the number of children who had been issued passports or put up for adoption, as access in Russia was extremely limited.
“We’re looking for access all the time, and access has been pretty rare, sporadic and not unlimited, if you know what I mean.”
Russia has said that the accusations of kidnapping Ukrainian children are false.
“We categorically reject the baseless accusations that the Russian authorities are abducting children,” Russian diplomat to the United Nations Dmitry Polyansky said in July, according to the TASS news agency.
Grandi highlighted two possible future trends in Ukraine’s displacement crisis, in which eight million Ukrainians fled abroad and several million more became internally displaced after the invasion of Moscow on February 24 last year.
The UNHCR chief said more refugees could return to Ukraine in the hot season, as happened in 2022 when the agency observed “hundreds of thousands” of returnees at the end of summer, although that movement was halted by the onset of cold weather.
Ukraine’s typically icy winter has been made even harsher this year by Russia’s campaign of missile attacks on its neighbor’s energy infrastructure, causing cuts in power, water and heating supplies in major cities.
“We have seen returns drop considerably, short term or long term, in the winter months…along with a very slight increase with people leaving the country,” he said.
Grandi also warned that an escalation in the fighting could unleash a new wave of refugees, although these are likely to be mostly internal.
“What we have seen in the last few days is not very promising in this regard, everyone expects that there will be an increase in hostilities, an escalation… and this is likely to generate more displacement.”
Grandi painted a bleak global outlook, predicting that the number of displaced people, currently at 103 million, would grow “almost inevitably” in the coming years if the UN Security Council remains divided on key issues.
“If the world’s supreme body for maintaining peace and security cannot do its job due to international divisions, then the conflicts will continue… to expand, continue, not be resolved.”
“That’s what makes the 103 million grow almost inevitably.”
The UNHCR chief also urged countries to process potential asylum seekers more quickly to prevent unfounded asylum claims from clogging up the system.
“Don’t drag it out! Because dragging it out means people run away, disappear, become illegal immigrants and then it’s a big problem because no one knows how to send them back,” he said.
“Governments have to take more decisive action in doing that.”
(Additional reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva and Caleb Davis; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)
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