UNICEF’s Ukraine refugee response in 2022
Results achieved for the safety, education, and health of children forced to flee the war
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Since the beginning of the war, over 2.4 million Ukrainians crossed the border into Romania from Ukraine or Moldova. Most of them pursued their journey to another European country, and around 100,000 Ukrainian refugees are currently staying in Romania. Despite their initial hopes for a short exile, they are unlikely to be able to return to their homes before - at least - springtime.
UNICEF was in Romania before the war since 1991, protecting the rights of every child in the country and now is responding to the refugee crisis together with the Romanian Government, national and local authorities, donors, UNHCR and other UN agencies, nongovernmental organizations (international and local) and other actors including media, private sector, and volunteers.
UNICEF has been working around the clock to provide protection for vulnerable children, and to ensure children have access to health services, water and sanitation and education through establishment of Blue Dots - Child and Family Support Hubs, medical and educational services.
Establishing Blue Dots and beyond
At the beginning of the refugee influx, multi service hubs, known as “Blue Dots”, were established in cooperation with local authorities and partners including UNHCR, providing a safe space and vital services for refugee children and their families, including protection, counselling and play. To date, there are 8 Blue Dots operating in Romania, mainly near the borders of Ukraine and Moldova.
It soon became clear that Blue Dots were merely the beginning of the journey. UNICEF needed to expand the range of services to be able to provide more complex needs of refugees related to health (including mental health), education, and employment. While Romanians opened their arms to host refugees in their communities, it became an urgent necessity for UNICEF to put its effort even more into national and local system-strengthening to increase its capacity of shock-responsiveness to not only respond to refugee families but also to vulnerable populations in host communities in Romania.
Building better systems with Government and Partners
In 2022, UNICEF in Romania joined forces with partners at national and county level more than ever. The onset of the war in Ukraine required UNICEF to adopt a multilevel approach in mobilising various partners across the country to address the needs of refugee children and families.
As a result, by December 2022, UNICEF has partnered with 17 county councils, local municipalities and directorates including Bucharest, that cover over half of the refugees staying in Romania. The Romanian Government and local municipalities already had ongoing efforts to ensure national systems work for all vulnerable children, regardless of origin and ethnicity- such as Roma communities and children living in poverty. However, with the massive influx of refugee children and families, its capacity is far stretched to provide critical and quality services for all. UNICEF will continue to partner with governments and municipalities to build, strengthen and scale up the child-centred education, health, social protection systems for every child in Romania.
Keeping children safe
UNICEF focused on identification and referral of children at risk through in-depth child protection assessment for cases of violence or health conditions and facilitated access to information and services (legal counselling, health, psychological and social support) for gender-based violence (GBV) survivors. Since the beginning of the refugee response, 230,000 children and women had access to these services in Blue Dots, safe spaces and service hubs. Over 16,000 children and caregivers accessed mental health and psychosocial support services and more than 3,000 children and women benefitted from GBV risk mitigation, prevention and/or response interventions.
The government of Romania was among the very first to establish a high-level decision-making taskforce, coordinated by the Prime Minister. A series of normative acts were developed to legalise the population fleeing from the war in Ukraine and provide them with the access to services. An important feature of the new legislation was its cross-sectoral nature that allowed different entities to work together at the subnational level keeping the child-centred approach. The Ministry of Family, Youth and Equal Opportunities, National Authority for Protection of Children’s Rights and Adoption (NAPRCA) and UNICEF advocated and provided support in developing a cross-sectoral collaboration in identification and case management of the unaccompanied and separated children. Since February 2022, estimated 700,000 Ukrainian children crossed the border into Romania, out of which the Border Police and the local child protection authorities identified and provided protection to almost 5,000 unaccompanied or separated children by end of December.
Together with the Ministry of Family, Youth and Equal Opportunities and NAPRCA, UNICEF launched Primero, an open-source software helping outreach workers identify and register refugee children and to refer them to specialized services as needed. Primero allows the early identification of potential situations of abuse, neglect, or trafficking, and the implementing of all necessary measures to secure and protect the rights of the child.
Expanding learning opportunities
As the number of refugees increased, UNICEF established play and learning hubs that provide young children with a much-needed sense of normalcy and respite. Additional programs targeted all school-aged children fleeing from Ukraine to continue their education by establishing safe learning spaces, and providing education supplies in formal and non-formal settings, including classes in Ukrainian run by Ukrainian refugee teachers. UNICEF also supported the integration of refugee children into the national education system by supporting the Ministry of Education to implement Romanian language classes, scaling up learning services and facilitation in Ukrainian language, and training of teachers for them to have skills to address the needs of children learning under difficult circumstances.
Almost 5,500 Ukrainian children are currently accessing formal and/or non-formal education and over 15,000 children are receiving individual learning materials to continue their study.
Access to health services
To cater to refugees’ most immediate needs, UNICEF provided access to essential services including vaccination and life-saving medicines, especially those for people and children with disabilities. Mother-baby spaces were established to provide safe spaces for breastfeeding and childcare in Blue Dots as well as transit and placement centres.
To date, around 95,000 parents/child guardians were reached with useful health information, including on infant and young child feeding. Over 16,000 Ukrainian children and women accessed primary health care through UNICEF-supported mechanisms.
Equal access to services for all
Romania has successfully responded to the wave of refugees coming from Ukraine in the first months of the war thanks to the mobilisation of its population, with the support of UNICEF and its partners.
While it mobilised local resources with limited budget and capacity, it became apparent that the social systems need much more structural support when the new influx of refugees (thousands of refugees still arrive at the border as of end of December) was added to their vulnerable group to support, in addition to the vulnerable host communities and refugees that have already been residing in Romania for almost a year. It is a hard reality that services and support do not yet cover every child in Romania. It is essential that we support children from the borders to the cities, and from urban cities to the isolated communities, and strengthen the cross-cutting support for adolescents, girls, and children with disabilities in the context of an emergency response.
We will continue to work with the Government, county and local authorities and NGO’s partners to support local services for nation-wide adapted inclusion of vulnerable population especially in health and education, as well as support cross-national cooperation to ensure that sustainable capacities are being built to serve all children in Romania, regardless of their background.