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EDITIONS
Friday, 13 December, 2002, 12:13 GMT
Ukrainian detention centre
EU flags in Brussels
In Copenhagen, the political elite of Europe are expected to toast each other and proclaim a new chapter in the history of the European Union, with the signing of an agreement that another ten countries can join in May 2004.

It could still be derailed by Polish demands to get their snouts deeper into the trough, but the political class are determined to go ahead.

The bigger union means new neighbours who are already discovering the inconvenience involved in living next door to a place seen as a honey pot for people who want to better themselves.

Newsnight has had exclusive access to the camps which the Ukraine has been forced to set up to cope. Tristana Moore reported.

TRISTANA MOORE:
The Carpathian mountains form a natural frontier with Europe and an escape route for refugees dreaming of a better life. In this remote corner of western Ukraine, cut off from the outside world, lies the detention centre of Pavshino.

We were allowed into the camp with our Ukrainian minders. The conditions are miserable. There's only one makeshift water supply outside in the freezing cold. The detainees use the same water to drink, and to wash. Sanitation is pretty basic.

If you talk to the Ukrainian authorities, this is a temporary camp for illegal immigrants picked up at the border. To these people, some of whom have been here for months, it's a prison.

We were shown inside. Ten men share this room.

BILAL MARSHOON:
They thought that we are animal. You know, they give the dogs the food before us. They...related with the dogs better than the...people.

UNNAMED MAN 1:
Our family, nobody knows from our family where we are. We are in jail. We say, for example, we want to speak with our family. They say OK, everything, promise, promise, promise. Nothing.

UNNAMED MAN 2:
Every day they tell us, "Tomorrow you go, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow." Just saying, you can't believe him. So we are here. We don't know what to do, what to do.

MOORE:
Many of these people have been here since the detention centre opened last August. They have no idea what's going to happen to them. Whether they will be deported or granted asylum. But one thing they do know is they don't want to stay here in Ukraine.

Abdullah Hassan is 14. He's from Somalia. He fled the country by boat with his brother and sister. A member of a minority tribe, Abdullah said he had no other option but to leave.

ABDULLAH HASSAN:
I left Somalia because there is war. Nobody can live in Somalia. So, when I was leaving Somalia, I didn't decide to go to any country. I decided only to go to a place where I get safe for myself.

MOORE:
Abdullah says he didn't choose to come here. He paid a gang of smugglers to get him out of Somalia to take him to western Europe.

HASSAN:
If they send me back to Somalia, it's not good for me. Instead of going back to Somalia, I'm ready to die.

MOORE:
The Ukrainian authorities have just 60 pence a day to feed and house each detainee. Tensions have been running so high that in September a riot broke out.

GUY OUELLET:
(UNHCR Representative, Ukraine)

The humanitarian situation is such that we feel attention should be brought to the situation, and assistance should be given to the Ukrainian Government and border guards to help house and feed and look after these people properly.

MOORE:
Some of the detainees have fled persecution. Others are economic migrants. It's often difficult to distinguish between the two.

DR HAIDER MOWSAWY:
And this one - I live here with two Iranians, and one Tunisian, and one Palestinian.

MOORE:
Haider Mowsawy is a GP. Only several months ago he was working at a hospital in Baghdad. Haider wants to be a cardiologist but there was no chance of doing that in Iraq.

MOWSAWY:
I leave Iraq by illegal way.

MOORE:
Haider paid 5,000 to get out of Iraq. His aim was to reach Austria. But instead he was dumped at the border of Ukraine.

MOWSAWY:
The Mafia leave me on the border for five minutes. After five minutes, the police came and put me in the jail.

MOORE:
This is their jail, for now. Resigned to their fate, they blame themselves.

MOWSAWY:
It's no good condition. But it's my fault, not the Ukrainian fault. Because I came to here, and lot of people came too. It's our fault.

MOORE:
Sandwiched between Europe and Asia, Ukraine has become a crossroads for illegal immigrants. They come from India, China, Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa. Those from the east enter Ukraine through its poorest border with Russia. Others arrive by boat from the Black Sea. Their aim is to travel across the former Soviet republic towards Europe. And as the EU expands eastwards, taking in Ukraine's neighbours: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and eventually Romania, Ukraine will become the last stop for those trying to reach the West.

To get a glimpse of some of the problems Ukraine has, you only have to travel to its border with Slovakia. There's not much in the way of security. There's a fence and bit of barbed wire. So far this year, 20,000 illegal immigrants were detained in Ukraine, heading for western Europe. But the border guards we spoke to here, reckon they have only caught half the number that get across.

Hardly surprising then that the European Union is keen to help out. Under a new action plan, it has pledged around 10 million to buy more vehicles, and infrared detectors for border crossings. But the Ukrainian Government hasn't seen any of that extra cash yet.

MAJOR GENERAL ALEXANDER PEROV:
(UKRAINIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY)

[Speaking in Ukrainian, In-Vision Subtitles read:
] Those funds made available for equipping border controls are clearly insufficient. Despite the fact that an action plan agreed in Brussels in June this year, we need the funds that were promised and not only words.

MOORE:
But it's not just a question of strengthening the border. The Ukrainian authorities are struggling to cope with processing those illegal immigrants who they manage to catch.

Do you think the Ukrainian authorities can cope with the problem at the moment?

OUELLET:
No. They are overwhelmed by this. This is a new problem for them. And they, you know, don't have in place the necessary procedures to manage the people that are being caught. This is why you have detention centres, where you have minimum standards obviously.

PEROV:
TRANSLATION :

The budget that has been allocated for the support and repatriation of the illegal immigrants is insufficient - clearly insufficient - to resolve this problem. Besides, there are not sufficient centres for the detainment of these people, apart from the difficulty of establishing their status.

MOORE:
The picture you get here in Ukraine is one of utter chaos and confusion. International aid organisations have told us there is effectively no process to deal with illegal immigrants and asylum seekers in Ukraine. There are three separate bodies trying to grapple with the problem.

You have got the Ministry of Interior, you have got the State Committee for Nationalities and Migration and then the border guards. And since the start of this year, not one person has been granted refugee status.

Border guards at a ceremony to remember the victims of the Second World War. Six million Ukrainians were killed as their country was besieged on two fronts, by German forces and the Red Army.

More than 50 years on, as an independent republic, Ukraine is now looking to build closer ties with the West, and the European Union. Ukraine's President Kuchma is desperate to join the rich man's club. But two weeks ago his hopes were crushed when the European Commission President, Romano Prodi, said he saw no reason to consider the country's membership.

The worry for Ukraine is that as it's left out of the new, enlarged European Union, and as that new bloc strengthens its eastern borders, the former Soviet republic will become a magnet for illegal immigrants.

YURIY SUKHOV:
(State Committee for Nationalities & Migration)
TRANSLATION :

The flow of immigrants will remain the same, but with the strengthening of border controls and with the expansion of the European Union, what will happen is that there will be a greater concentration of illegal immigrants on Ukrainian territory.

OUELLET:
The more the borders are sealed or controlled on the western side, the more people will be detained in Ukraine and the more this problem will increase.

MOORE:
Back at Pavshino, the detainees are getting ready for their evening meal. The Ukrainian border guards know we're coming so they have laid on a special dinner for a select group, right down to the chef in his outfit. The only thing that gives it all away is the soldier at the window, keeping guard. Outside there's anger. And the detainees are keen to show us what they say is the only food they get here.

UNNAMED MAN 3:
One in the morning. One at the night. Just this.

UNNAMED MAN 4:
And this is the bread, you see. Just this piece.

MOORE:
In fact, the food isn't that different. Yet it's a vivid example of the futility of the situation here. The Ukrainian authorities can't afford to look after these men. And these men who have travelled across the world in search of a better future now have little power to improve their lives.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Tristana Moore
reported from inside the detetaion camps they've had to build in the Ukraine to contain the waves of migrants coming our way.

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13 Oct 02 | Country profiles
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