By Magdalena Mis
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ukraine has suspended benefits to more than 600,000 people on suspicion some are falsely claiming allowances meant for internally displaced people, the United Nations said, raising concerns that some IDPs are now unable to pay for food or rent.
Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 9,000 people since April 2014.
The United Nations estimates that more than 1.7 million people in Ukraine have been forced from their home with more than 3 million in need of humanitarian assistance.
The Kiev government announced the suspension of social benefits to hundreds of thousands of IDPs in February, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.
Ukraine's minister of labor and social policy Pavlo Rozenko told a local TV station that his ministry was verifying the identities of those registered as IDPs, according to an April 3 post on the ministry's website.
Aid agencies were concerned about the suspension, OCHA said in an overview of the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, adding that: "IDPs must have access to social services, benefits, pensions and bank services without restrictions and limitations".
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said a lack of information about the suspension had created confusion among IDPs.
"The problem with the suspension is that ... there are still no clear procedures and information about (it)," said Hugues Bissot, UNHCR senior protection officer.
"This is creating confusion and frustration ... people don't know if payments have been suspended or if it's delays because of (other) bureaucratic issues," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Ukraine.
Ukrainian government officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Bissot said the suspension of benefits meant that some people were at risk of eviction from their rented accommodation.
"We know of some people who are unable to pay the rent or electricity or buy food or (pay for) heating," he said.
OCHA said last month that while the Ukrainian authorities have the right to investigate possible frauds, "the decision to cut payments before a thorough and transparent verification exercise is unduly impacting civilians".
(Reporting by Magdalena Mis; editing by Katie Nguyen; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)