On May 23, 2023, the Federation of Non-Governmental Organizations for Children (FONPC) co-organized together with Victor Negrescu, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), a debate event at the European Parliament with the theme of “Solidarity with Ukraine – Budgetary and legislative measures that support civil society actions to integrate Ukrainian refugees in the social and protection national systems of EU Member States”.
The debate was centered around Romania as a case study and followed the main concerns raised by civil society organizations in EU member states regarding the operational aspects of the EU funds eligible for humanitarian assistance for Ukrainian citizens that fled the war in their home-country.
Over 50 persons attended, including representatives of the European Commission, decision makers in public policy at EU and Romania level, as well as members of the civil society, to discuss the support systems for the response to the Ukrainian refugees across EU member states.
The event was opened by a message from MEP Victor Negrescu, who highlighted the need for the expertise and contribution of Romanian NGOs in supporting and providing protection for Ukrainian children to be recognized at EU level and supported by European institutions. „I am convinced that this debate will allow us to set the foundations for the next phases of the response in such a way that the expertise of Romanian NGOs in the field of child protection and rights to become a model of good practice across the European Union”, mentioned the MEP.
Mr Juan Fernando Lopez, member of the European Parliament and Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament (LIBE), took the floor next and spoke of the role the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD), which is an EU legislation that sustained the European model and prevented it from collapsing, as it was feared, ensuring millions of Ukrainian refugees received assistance on the EU territory.
Monique Pariat, Director-General at DG Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME) spoke of the importance of the EU population solidarity with Ukraine, including that of the civil society, citing the Eurobarometer that shows 73% of Europeans support the continuation of assistance for Ukrainian refugees. Also, her excellency highlighted the fact that all EU member states supported the activation of the Temporary Protection Directive, an unprecedented consensus, which demonstrated again the solidarity of EU with Ukraine. Her speech further marked the fact that integration in the education system and labor market remain a major priority.
„In the past year, through the CARE/SERA/FONPC partnership, the collective intervention of over 30 national and local NGOs offered humanitarian assistance to over 80,000 conflict affected Ukrainian citizens in Romania, 3500 in Moldova and 66.000 in Ukraine (through cross-border humanitarian convoys). Localization, leveraging the expertise of non-governmental organizations at community grass-roots level, after years of hands-on work in child protection and rights, was the key to success of a collaborative way of working. However, despite the significant contributions of civil society, institutional funding, including funds coming from the EU, remain very bureaucratic and difficult to access by NGOs”, says Bogdan Simion, President of FONPC.
All participants to the debate recognized the important role that civil society played in supporting the humanitarian response to the Ukrainian refugees in Romania.
During the event, Daniela Boșca, Executive director of FONPC, referenced seven essential recommendations to improve assistance for Ukrainian refugees:
1. EU funds for the Ukraine response should be easily accessible and less bureaucratic for NGOs to be able to access and continue responding to the needs of refugees.
2. A financing mechanism dedicated solely for the Ukraine crisis that can be accessed in a more flexible and timely manner than usual EU funding, for both emergency and integration needs of refugees.
3. Funding dedicated to the Ukraine refugee response should be new funding supplementing the EU budgets for social actions in Member States, not simply reallocating resources from other social segments.
4. A minimum funding percentage dedicated to CSOs in the 30% provisions for local interventions (local authorities and civil society) should be stipulated by EU management authorities as a pre-condition for any budget approvals.
5. Key program interventions requiring complementary EU funding to National Social Services provided by Member States governments to Ukrainian refugees include support to integration in the education system and on the labor market, improved access to health services and supplementary support to ensure the sustainability of food & shelter programs.
6. More transparency and clearer operational programmes & application guidelines for Ukraine crisis funding allocations.
7. Strengthen consultation with civil society on EU operational programmes, application guidelines & budgetary allocations, according to EU partnership principles and localization of humanitarian assistance goals.
Needs of displaced people from Ukraine
The war in Ukraine has generated an unprecedented refugee wave in the European Union, with a significant impact on neighboring countries. 8.2 million Ukrainian citizens have sought refugees across the EU territory, of which more than half transited Romania.
The high number of women, children and youth that crossed the border form Ukraine and decided to stay in Romania required public authorities and NGOs to find solutions to better facilitate their social and educational integration. The representative of the Pupils Association in Constanta, Ariana Duduna, highlighted in the debate the importance of educational hubs that ensure continuity of learning, a mutually beneficial cultural exchange and the inclusion of Ukrainian students in the Romanian society.
Thus, in addition to food and shelter programs, a series of complementary services were developed to support language acquisition for improved access to education, easier access to health services, as well as psychosocial support to overcome the trauma caused by war and leaving behind life as they knew it. NGOs offering services for children were among the most active in responding to the Ukraine refugee crisis.
According to a study conducted by FONPC regarding the evolution of needs of Ukrainian refugees settled in Romania, 89.8% of respondents have children and 39.2% want to find a job in Romania. 73.4% want to learn Romanian to better integrate in tehir host community and 80.4% mention they require financial assistance for food and shelter.
Solidarity with Ukraine – Contributions
The debate event was also attended by the Ambassador and permanent representative of Romania to the EU, E.S. Iulia Matei, and State Secretary for the Ministry of External Affairs, Janina Sitaru, Bogdan Simion, President of the Federation for Non-Governmental Oraganizations for Children, and Alexandre Morel, Co-Director General – CARE France.
They were joined by state secretaries for the Romanian Government, including: Tiberiu Marius Brădățan – Ministry of Health, Bogdan Simcea – Ministry of Investments and European Projects, Paul Marcel Miclău – General Secretary ANOFM, Ministry of Labor, Vice-president of the National Authority for Child Protection, Rights and Adoption, Nicolae-Gabriel Gorunescu and Mălina Gonț, representing the Ministry of Finance.
The Ministry representatives from Romania showed that the national legislation was made flexible to facilitate access of Ukrainian refugees to all social services and the labor market. Paul Marcel Miclău, General Secretary ANOFM, highlighted that fact that „although the majority of services have been supported so far from funds allocated by the Romanian Government, for the future Romania will utilize EU funding, especially given the provisions in the Government Directive 368/2023 that elaborates on the quotas, conditions and mechanisms for financial assistance”.
The application guidelines will be finalized in the third trimester of 2023 and first trimester of 2024. Ukrainian citizens will be eligible under similar conditions to Romanian citizens.
The event was also attended by speakers and representatives of the Romanian civil society – FONPC, SERA, Terres des Hommes Romania, World Vision Romania and the Association of Pupils Constanta, who were joined by international partners and civil society networks – ECRE, PICUM, Eurochild, CARE International. The event was moderated by the Executive Director of FONPC, Daniela Boșca.
The debate was organized as part of the project Help to Help Ukraine, a network support program, supported through funding coming from the global confederation CARE International and coordinated locally by the SERA Foundation, with support from CARE France and FONPC.
Photos by Ionut Ticu.