CARE International and its Romanian partners are extremely worried for the 100,000 children currently living in institutions in Ukraine who have been largely forgotten during this crisis and remain trapped inside the country.
According to Bogdan Simion, Executive Director of CARE’s partner SERA and President of the Romanian Federation of Child Protection NGOs (FONPC): “These young boys and girls are among the most vulnerable in Ukraine right now, and little has been done to ensure they are being safely and successfully evacuated, despite them being some of the highest risks. So far around 150 children from these institutions have arrived in Romania and are being housed in specially prepared facilities across several sites into the Child Protection system of Romania. But there are real worries that as, and if, more and more are able to be evacuated the Romanian child protection system will be overwhelmed and ill-equipped to cope.”
Ukraine has the largest number of children in institutional care in Europe. Around half of the children in institutional care are also living with special needs or disabilities and many are not necessarily without families. In Romania alone, 218 unaccompanied children were registered by authorities on March 9th.
“If this continues, the capacity of national child protection systems in neighboring countries and across Europe are going to be critically overwhelmed. In Moldova, for example, authorities have been forced to reopen previously closed soviet-style orphanages in order to try and cope with new arrivals,” says Simion.
CARE International’s Romania Response Team Leader Valentina Mirza, who has been on the Romania border with teams from CARE and FONPC notes; “Despite requirements for all unaccompanied children to be registered by local authorities at border points, there are already reports of busloads of unaccompanied children showing up in countries like Italy. We heard just recently from sources that a group of 4 children from one of these institutions inside Ukraine had been traveling for 4 days, alone, to try and reach the Romanian border, without yet managing to cross. These kinds of reports are deeply troubling. Situations like this are a trafficker’s dream, especially as many will continue to transit through bordering countries to final destinations. Everything possible must be done to stop already traumatized children being further distressed.”
She adds; “more needs to be urgently done to prioritize these vulnerable groups like children in institutions in evacuation efforts and to ensure they have safe and unhindered passage to leave the country through humanitarian corridors. Authorities inside Ukraine must work to coordinate with the relevant social services in neighboring countries to facilitate this. But ultimately, the only way to ensure their safety is an immediate and lasting ceasefire.”
Currently, 30-40% of those arriving in neighboring countries from Ukraine are children under the age of 14. They face a myriad of challenges and psychological traumas, not to mention the disruption to their education.14th March children across Ukraine are expected to return to school after the holiday break and there are very real concerns, as the conflict continues, over what will happen to their education, both in the short and longer term.
CARE and FONPC will be working across Romania to ensure the delivery of emergency and protection assistance to the most vulnerable Ukrainians, including working with unaccompanied children and those arriving from institutions under the coordination of the local and central authorities.