„It has been more than a month since Russia invaded Ukraine, and during this time, almost 10% of ukraine’s population has been forced by circumstances to leave the country. We are witnessing the most serious humanitarian crisis in Europe since the Second World War. The full impact and consequences are still to be assessed, but it is already obvious that this is a crisis without borders. The massive inflow of refugees running from the war is challenging the entire continent and especially the countries in the immediate neighborhood. Moldova is probably facing the hardest task…”
By the end of March, almost 390 thousand refugees entered Moldova, of which 100 thousand decided to stay in the country. Reports provided by the UN show that the Republic of Moldova, along with Poland, received the highest number of refugees per inhabitants. Although the figures are comparable, the burden placed on these states as well as their ability to react cannot be compared. Poland has a GDP almost 5 times higher than that of the Republic of Moldova. In addition, as a member of the EU and NATO, it can mobilise resources and use mechanisms offered at the level of these communities. Moldova, in turn, is disadvantaged both economically, socially and in terms of security. The war in Ukraine, as well as the refugee crisis, has caught the Republic of Moldova in an extremely vulnerable situation. In 2021, the country’s economy was barely recovering from the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The energy crisis followed, which negatively influenced economic developments and generated a chain increase in prices, with the inflation rate reaching over 16%.
Even in these circumstances, Moldova and its citizens have demonstrated to the whole world that they can act in a European spirit. From the first day after the outbreak of the war, the Moldovans opened their doors and welcomed with an open heart the Ukrainians in difficulty. For a state such as the Republic of Moldova, where for years they have been trying to create and maintain artificial lines of division between people, such solidarity and mobilization at the level of the entire society is a sign of maturity.
The prompt reaction was also at the level of the authorities. The Moldovan Government has shown leadership in managing the refugee crisis, mobilizing all available resources. Systems for managing the flow of refugees, green corridors to facilitate the transit of the country’s territory, land and air transport were put into operation. These measures come to reduce the pressure on the social system, but faced with the current realities, the authorities have reached the limit of their own capacities. While continuing to respond to these challenges, the government is appealing for help from the international community. It is crucial that in these times of difficulty, the country’s efforts are complemented and assisted by European partners, UN agencies and networks of international NGOs. A part of the humanitarian assistance has already reached and is completed daily both through state institutions and NGOs in the field, which account for almost 75% of all humanitarian assistance. Further assistance at the border was also announced through the secondment of FRONTEX teams. Financial aid from various sources has also been called into question. This week, the European Parliament approved the decision to provide macro-financial assistance of 150 million euros to the Republic of Moldova. The United States, in turn, is set to donate $1 billion to help countries that receive Ukrainian refugees. The International Monetary Fund also announced its intention to help Moldova cope with the influx of refugees.
Although currently, the wave of refugees has stabilized, the management of the 100 thousand people who continue to remain on the territory of the Republic of Moldova may turn into a long-term exercise. If the war in Ukraine is to be spread indefinitely, in addition to providing food, shelter and first aid services, the authorities must devise a mechanism for integrating these people into society. Ensuring access to employment, education and healthcare must be addressed as a matter of priority. This exercise could be complicated for Moldova, but at the same time it can serve a window of opportunity. On the one hand, it is in the state’s interest that refugees should be integrated and acquire financial independence as quickly as possible, thereby reducing the pressure on the social system. At the same time, this could serve an opportunity for the labor market to fill the gap caused by the massive migration of the native population.
Just a month after the start of the crisis, it is difficult to talk about comprehensive solutions. But with the help of the international community, the Republic of Moldova can develop more sustainable and coherent approaches, based on solidarity, responsibility-sharing, resettlement, and other complementary ways to support refugees. The refugee crisis is a test of our collective consciousness, which can only be overcome by coordinated and cohesive action. And the Republic of Moldova has proved that it has the determination to pass this exam.
Victoria Olari is a program coordinator at the Institute for Strategic Initiatives
The op-ed is carried out within the project “Bridges of connection with the EU: Securing the Europeanization process of the Republic of Moldova”, implemented with the support of the Soros Foundation-Moldova, as well as as the result of an IPRE partnership with IPN within the project “We and Europe” supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in the Republic of Moldova. The visions expressed belong to the author.