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Helping Ukrainian refugees adjust to life in Romania

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eLiberare, an association that fights against human trafficking and sexual exploitation, operates a mobile unit that travels around Romania offering counselling sessions and prevention training to Ukrainian refugees. Photo: Ioana Moldovan/Oxfam

Partners in Romania adjust humanitarian response to meet needs of refugees who are starting to settle in to the country

On March 13, a missile landed about 32 feet away from Olga’s home in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. That’s when she decided she and her son needed to leave. “We only had time to take documents and necessities,” she said. Olga, 34, spoke to Oxfam from the Centre for Humanitarian and Social Aid Nicolina in Iasi, Romania, where she’d been staying for three weeks. She told us she finally felt safe, unlike their life in Ukraine, where “We had a huge fear that we could die at any minute.”

Since the Russian Federation started a military offensive in Ukraine in late February, an estimated 17.7 million people have been reported to need humanitarian assistance within Ukraine. One-third of all Ukrainians have been forced to leave their homes and Olga and her son are among the 86,206 Ukrainians in Romania, as of late October.

In March, at the peak of the crisis, more than 33,000 people a day crossed to Romania from Ukraine and Moldova. In the first stages of response, the most immediate needs included food, housing, and emergency medical assistance. Now, the numbers of people moving through Romania have slowed to about 8,000 people a day. Nearly 90 percent of refugees in Romania plan to stay there until they can return home and have obtained temporary protection status (TPS).

As of October 30, Oxfam and partners had provided humanitarian assistance to 600,000 people across Romania, Poland, Moldova, and Ukraine. While basic assistance remains a priority, Oxfam and local organizations are taking an adaptive response, shifting resources to provide comprehensive services to the large numbers who have made Romania their home for the time being. With more people choosing to stay put, organizations are expanding operations from serving people in transit to also meeting increasing needs for access to employment, education, and specialized services for the groups at most risk amidst the refugee community, including Roma and LGBTQIA+ individuals, as well as women and children who face a heightened risk of violence and human trafficking.

Settled into the Centre for Humanitarian and Social Aid shelter, Olga said, “We know there’s no siren here, no bomb going to fall, [that] we can safely go for a walk.” Her son has been able regain some normalcy by attending summer school at the center, which she said has helped him cope with all the changes. “My son likes it very much here,” she added. “Psychologically, he unloaded.”


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Olga, 34, spoke to Oxfam from her room at the Center for Humanitarian and Social Aid in Romania. In Ukraine, she said she was constantly tense, with the fear she could die at any moment, Now in Romania, she said, "We feel completely safe, we know that there's ... there's no siren, no bomb going to fall, we can safely go for a walk somewhere." Photo: Ioana Moldovan/Oxfam

How Oxfam is helping partners in Romania support Ukrainian refugees

The Center is an initiative of the Federation of Non-Governmental Organisations for Social Services (FONSS), one of the civil society organisations Oxfam partners with in Romania. Prior to the war, Diana Chiriacescu, national director at FONSS, said the organizations had no experience with humanitarian crises.

“We deliver services in usual times for people with extreme vulnerabilities, but never in a context of war, trauma, or emergencies of this kind,” she said.

Providing humanitarian assistance required an adjustment for FONSS in terms of mindset -learning the language of the sector, structuring intake criteria and exit strategies— and balance between the response to ongoing crisis and potentially arising emergencies. That’s where Oxfam’s expertise, built over a long history of responding to humanitarian emergencies, was helpful to local partners.

“We feel that this partnership with Oxfam really helps us to adapt to every stage of the process,” Chiriacescu said. “We … learned how to plan the immediate response. We learned how to think at the second phase. And we also learned … we need to impose sometimes a way of working with refugees that is adapted to their own needs.”

Risks on both sides of the border

For many refugees, dangers don’t stop once they’ve made it out of Ukraine.

“When we first started seeing the influx of refugees, we realized that these are people with compound vulnerabilities who are not only escaping war, but can easily fall prey to exploiters,” said Ioana Bauer, president of eLiberare, an organization that focuses on raising awareness on the risk of human trafficking people in transit both in Romania and while journeying through other countries.

The organization has been supporting people on the move to access their rights and develop individualized safety plans through a mobile unit offering counselling sessions and training to frontline responders across Romania. Now that most refugees in Romania have applied for TPS and are expected to stay in the country for at least one year, eLiberare is supporting them by helping revise housing and employment contracts to prevent trafficking, exploitation, and situations akin to modern slavery.

LGBTQIA+ refugees are another marginalized group that requires special attention and case management, according to Vlad VIski, director of MozaiQ, an organization that helps the LGBTQIA+ community in Romania. For people with diverse gender identity, gender expression, and sexual characteristics, crossing the border can be the most challenging aspect of the journey. There have been anecdotal reports of transgender women whose identification documents do not reflect their gender identity and/or expression not being allowed to leave Ukraine due to the martial law.

Oxfam's partners have been providing comprehensive care to the community, ensuring access to services, including healthcare, mental health and psychosocial support, non-formal education, and recreational activities.

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Oxfam interviewed Valentina, 75, a former English professor in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, at the Center for Humanitarian and Social Aid. Photo: Ioana Moldovan/Oxfam

Hoping for the “best future”

Valentina, 75, a retired English professor from Mykolaiv, Ukraine, had been living at the shelter for three months when Oxfam spoke to her. When she fled Ukraine, she was ill and physically unable to bring any belongings with her. Upon arriving in Romania in April, Valentina was hospitalized. “Now I'm on medicine all the time, for my problems with my heart,” she said.

Even though she brought only the clothes she was wearing, she does not miss her possessions, nor is she worried about her house. “I don’t care about things,” she said. She misses her son, who joined the army, and her friends.

“I still believe that justice will overcome all the problems in the world,” Valentina said. “Everyone here hopes for the best future.”

Oxfam's partners in Romania

Oxfam has supported Ukraine refugees moving through and in many cases, settling in Romania, through a number of local organizations who are best positioned to meet their needs.

View partner list

FONSS

A federation of social services workers and providers, and civil society organisations that provides safe shelters and services, such as legal, mental, and social support, as well informal educational activities; and vocational training

Romanian Federation for Community Foundations

Supports refugees by through activities encouraging social cohesion, education, and food security, such as language classes and workshops); Peace Action, Training and Research Institute of Romania - provides of basic assistance, including cash assistance, winter kits, and shelter refurbishment), and builds capacity of civil society organizations and authorities in trauma-informed care and anti-polarization and dialogue

eLiberare

Focuses on prevention, early detection and awareness raising around human trafficking

MozaiQ

A community organization focusing in providing information and comprehensive case management services to the LGBTQIA+ community

Centrul FILIA

A women’s rights organization focusing in access to sexual and reproductive health and rights

E-Romnja

Roma-led organization focusing on supporting Roma individuals and communities accessing basic and specialized services

Carusel

A human rights organization focusing in dignified shelter and multidisciplinary case management efforts for groups of the refugee community at-risk

easyECO

an inclusive organization focusing on an intersectional approach to respond to the needs of the Roma individuals and communities residing in state-run shelters

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