Since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, as people fled to safety across the borders, Children on the Edge has been working with our partners in Moldova and Romania to support refugee families. As we approach the end of the year, find out how the situation has evolved and what we are doing to help Ukrainian refugees.
AN UPDATE FROM ROMANIA
According to UNHCR over 80,000 Ukrainian refugees are currently taking refuge in Romania. These are mostly women and children. Our initial support was focused on the immediate needs of these refugees arriving into the country; emergency accommodation, food, supplies and support with onward travel. But, ten months into the conflict, the war still rages and refugee families see no immediate hope of returning home. As a result we are focusing on what longer term support is needed until a return home to Ukraine becomes possible.
Over the past few months we have been supporting refugees to adapt to their new situation, process the trauma they have been through and help them integrate into their new communities in Romania. This is already having a positive impact.
We continue to run a weekly drop in centre in Iasi, Romania, where refugees can collect parcels of food, including pasta, eggs and bread as well as hygiene products and infant formula and nappies.
The centre is supporting around 400-500 people who register to collect supplies every other week. We try to provide what the families would like, and items are purchased from local supermarkets or donated.
We are also running Romanian language classes each week for children and adults which are proving very popular. Initially these classes were not well attended, but refugee families are accepting that a return home is not likely in the immediate future, they are beginning to see the value in learning the local language so that they can communicate more effectively with their new communities.
From mid December a new day centre provides a community hub and socialising space for refugee families in central Iasi. Refugees can use the centre from 9am until 6pm each day to host activities like painting or crafting to share their skills or teach, as well as help each other find jobs and provide general support. The space has been donated and will be run by refugee volunteers. We have been able to provide furniture and other necessities to make the space useful and welcoming.
At the moment, Ukrainian refugee children are attending school lessons online with teachers from Ukraine, covering their own curriculum. We hope the centre will offer them a vital space to come together to do homework, play and socialise.
The other main focus of our work in Romania is supporting a group of children who arrived from a group home (orphanage) in Ukraine earlier in the year. We have gone back to our roots and been working closely with the Child Protection Department in Iasi to help ensure that these children are being given the right support and care whilst they are taking refuge in the country.
They are being housed in a centre in Iasi, which we have refurbished to create a bright, welcoming space for 42 children and their carers who live here.
The children here have experienced a great deal of trauma, not only as a result of the war and require professional support. We are funding social workers and a psychologist to work with the children and build case files on each child so that they can receive the help they need to process their trauma and heal.
The children attend group therapy and play therapy and we are beginning to see positive changes. When they arrived, many had behavioural issues, were violent, struggled to communicate and were withdrawn. Thanks to the dedicated therapy, building routines and structure to their day, along with providing a secure and safe home with familiar faces, behaviour has greatly improved and the children are happier.
The school-aged children attend online Ukrainian lessons in a local school; they have a dedicated space to learn online, with a supervisor who supports them. They also have Romanian language lessons, and have made amazing progress. Incredibly, some of the younger children are nearly fluent. Our partners were delighted to share a video clip with us of a young boy from the centre who ran into a room asking, fluently in Romanian, if he should take his shoes off, without being prompted.
The children enjoy daily activities at the centre, which focus on their healing and development and regularly visit local playgrounds or spaces that allow them to be active and most importantly, have fun.
As Christmas approaches, the children are excited to attend a Christmas party on the 16th December. They will join 100 other refugee children from Iasi for a party with music, dancing, presents and a visit from Santa.
AN UPDATE FROM MOLDOVA
In Moldova, the situation has evolved over the past few months and we are seeing fewer refugees settling in the country on a long term basis. There have been issues with power supplies, leading to mass power cuts; and many refugees do not feel safe here, so are moving onwards in Romania and other European countries.
The Speranta centre that we are supporting in Chisinau, the Moldovan capital, is still providing accommodation for refugees who are in transit. The centre hosts around 10-20 people at a time, who are generally staying for 1-2 weeks before moving on into Europe. The centre welcomes those people who are unable to find accommodation at other refugee centres; and specialises in supporting people with disabilities or additional needs.
The larger transit centre in rural Vatici is still running, but refugee numbers have decreased, with around 50 refugees currently living here. As winter approaches, travel into rural areas will become difficult and the large buildings will be harder to keep warm, so we don’t anticipate many new arrivals. We are working closely with our partners in Moldova to respond and adapt our support as the situation develops and changes over time.
Thank you to everyone who has donated to our Ukraine Appeal this year. Your generosity is helping to provide Ukrainian refugees with the right support as their situation evolves. We will continue to work with our partners in Romania to support Ukrainian refugee families.