Refugees from Ukraine waiting at the Palanca border crossing.
Credit: International Organization for Migration
The UN estimates that nearly 3 million people have fled Ukraine due to the Russian invasion. Around 280,000 of these refugees have landed in Moldova, a tiny country to the south with a population of just 2.6 million – now increased by 4 percent practically overnight.
“The prospects are dire; we are talking about a major threat to the whole state system,” says Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nicolae Popescu.
Despite the fragile circumstances, Moldova has opened itself up to its Ukrainian neighbours, working closely with the international community and establishing over 90 refugee centres. Civil society and private citizens alike are providing tremendous support to cover basic needs, from food and water to shelter, medicines, emotional relief, and transportation, transporting refugees to other countries, and caring for unaccompanied children crossing the border.
And while the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection has established a data collection process to capture data on the refugee centres, number of available beds, and various needs, Camelia Gheorghe, Palladium’s Data for Impact (D4I) Chief of Party, reports that data and information are understandably chaotic at the moment.
“There are a lot of people from aid organisations coming into Moldova to help but they don’t know too much about the country context,” she explains. “We’ve been asked to provide an overview of the legal, organisational, and institutional systems in place, explain the child protection system and case management procedures, share where the residential care facilities are, and who the government point of contact is for dealing with children.”
Palladium has worked in Moldova since 2017 – first under the USAID-funded MEASURE Evaluation activity and now the Data for Impact project, with the goal of ‘harnessing the power of data for the benefit of the child’. The team has insight into Moldova’s institutions and works closely with the government and its partners to collect, analyse, and use data to positively impact endangered children.
That knowledge will be critical in the coming weeks and months. “This is a refugee crisis, but it’s a child protection crisis as well,” Gheorghe adds, as reports surface that 1 in 8 children in Moldova is a Ukrainian refugee and that almost half of all refugees are children.
Forced to leave behind husbands and fathers, she describes the scene in her local veterinarian office, where Ukrainian women gather to get the necessary paperwork for their pets to enter the country. “It’s common to see a young woman with a baby on one hip, a dog on the other, and her elderly mother behind her,” she explains.
“They’re in desperate need of safety, stability, and child protection services,” says UNICEF spokesperson James Elder, stressing the importance of ensuring that the more than 70,000 child refugees receive the support they need.
Palladium Director Molly Cannon agrees. “It’s tragic,” she says. “The people of Moldova are quickly and compassionately providing refuge to their neighbours, and the need for rapid, efficient, automated, and scalable solutions is critical.”
Like many in Moldova, Gheorghe and her team have opened their homes to refugees in need, but recognise the concerns and complexities associated with doing so.
“Most refugees are staying within the communities, and the government will need to ensure that they and their host families are supported, and that their needs are met,” Gheorghe says. There’s a risk that those refugees staying in private homes rather than official shelters could get lost in the system and not receive the assistance they need.
“There are also children coming who are unaccompanied and we’ll need to ensure that they are properly placed, integrated into society, and receive critical mental health and social support services,” she continues.
Currently, Moldovan authorities plan to transition about half of the Ukrainian refugees to other countries, and Cannon stresses that managing the flow of people will be critical. Already she and her team have identified areas that need support, from ensuring accessible transportation for disabled refugees, arranging affordable accommodations, providing access to education for children and jobs for their mothers, and coordinating with the many organisations and external groups that want to help.
“UNICEF is leading the child protection emergency services; WHO is coordinating the implementation of the needs assessment and a costing tool for the health sector; UNCHR is publishing data related to the refugee situation and leading information management and the inter-agency level,” she describes. “Ensuring all of these efforts stay coordinated is of the utmost importance.”
Meanwhile, Cannon and her team are keeping one eye on the potential future should the Russian invasion progress to Odessa, a coastal city of one million people just 100 kilometres from Moldova. “The situation would become unbearable for Moldova if Odessa comes under siege.”
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