8th Dec 2023


How east Europe's social services cope with Ukraine refugees

  • Over 1.5 million childrenare among those who have fled across other countries (Photo: European Union, 2022)
Listen to article

Over four million people have fled across borders to Ukraine neighbouring countries. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has led to one of the most rapid movement of refugees ever witnessed. Its invasion and increasingly intense bombardment are generating a desperate humanitarian crisis.

In the neighbouring nations of Romania, Poland, or the Czech Republic, and countries throughout Europe, private citizens, and volunteers as well as public social services have been welcoming and providing help to those whose lives have been torn by the war.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Annalisa Contu, of ASSOC, a professional association for social assistance in Romania, explained that their organisation has been providing 24-hour support for refugees arriving at the border through staff and volunteers.

They provide food, clothes, personal hygiene products and medicines; pay travel so that refugees can reach other zones of Romania or other European countries. They also man 'blue points' where refugees can legally register their entrance in Romania, receive psychological and social support, and access the Internet or prepaid phone cards.

In Cluj-Napoca, Crina Moisă, a local official explained that a partnership between the local authority and NGOs has been set up to centralise the provision of accommodation, food, clothing, mattresses, sleeping bags, medicines, psychological support, translation services and employment support.

According to her department, refugees need information about labour market integration, social benefits, schools, access to healthcare and housing.

Jarosław Wesołowski, director of the European Social Fund Department (ESF) of the Polish region of Silesia, explained that the regional social policy centre was appointed as coordinator and financer of local authorities' support efforts.

Russian and Ukrainian speaker employees have been assigned to hotlines and railway stations information points, and a bilingual portal was launched for the provision of accommodation.

A social inclusion plan was developed including Polish language classes, legal support, and family integration into the community.

The region's ESF Department is trying to employ unused EU funds of their previous operational programme, and get new EU funds through the CARE proposal that the European Commission recently launched to support Ukrainian refugees.

From free transport to free housing to work opportunities and other forms of support, help is not far away, but neither are the risks.

Relying on strangers

We have heard from our members at the European Social Network (the leading network of public social services organisations in Europe), that a large proportion of the refugees arriving in the border countries want to move on to friends or family elsewhere in Europe, and many are relying on strangers to reach their destinations.

In times like this when people mobilise, the risk for other people that can capitalise on the pain of these families is very high. Risks can become higher when there are many people involved without the appropriate coordination and lack of knowledge about who does what.

The number of separated child refugees without any family support also continues to rise in an increasingly serious child protection crisis. In the absence of any family support, there are significant concerns for children's safety, as they are at a heightened risk of threats including violence and human trafficking.

Over 1.5 million children are among those who have fled across other countries.

As the Ukrainian government banned the departure of men aged 18-60, most children are travelling with their mothers.

Indeed, more than 50 percent of the 300,000 refugees that arrived in the Czech Republic are children, and 80 percent of all adult refugees are women.

A key aspect of social inclusion is to promote employment for women and access to nurseries for children.

The Czech government has opened the labour market for Ukrainian refugees and nurseries for children, but many of the Ukrainian children fleeing the war do not have the right vaccinations, which is a requirement to access pre-school programmes.

Midwives and breastfeeding specialists

Social services in neighbouring countries and across Europe need to prepare for fast and vast numbers of refugee women arriving with children into their countries.

This preparation involves the need to reinforce midwives and breastfeeding specialists as well as safe places and the right instructions to support feeding babies and children while on the move or temporary living situations.

There is also a desperate need to provide basic necessities like diapers, baby carriers, food, toys, colouring books, medicine, hand warmers, first aid kits, baby socks, and more.

But a key part of successfully welcoming refugees is to help them integrate into the local communities.

This requires that national governments coordinate with local authorities so that they can put in place a social inclusion plan which revolves around professionals that support and engage with mothers and children so that they can build trust, help them navigate the system in the hosting country to receive the appropriate financing and housing support, and help to go to school with resources in their own language. 

This involves a medium to long term approach through investment in family social workers, psychologists and social services professionals, who can help them deal with the trauma of war migration and building trust to integrate into their new communities.

Author bio

Alfonso Lara Montero is chief executive officer of the European Social Network, the leading network of public social services organisations in Europe.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Too many Ukrainian refugees in Poland, EU says

EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson in Brussels said efforts need to be made to encourage refugees from Ukraine in Poland to fan out to other member states.


A Habsburg look at Putin

"Of course, communism like it was under Stalin is not going to come back. What will return, however, is national socialism. Not Hitler's, but Putin's." Otto von Habsburg, the son of the last Habsburg emperor, said this back in 2002.

Why the EU double standards on mental help for asylum seekers?

In many EU member states, access to services is dependent on successful refugee status determination. Until then, asylum seekers may not be able to get housing, education, or jobs and can also face significant barriers to receiving psychosocial support.

Can Green Deal survive the 2024 European election?

Six months ahead of the EU elections, knocking an 'elitist' climate agenda is looking like a vote-winner to some. Saving the Green Deal and the EU's climate ambitions starts with listening to Europeans who are struggling to make ends meet.

Latest News

  1. EU suggests visa-bans on Israeli settlers, following US example
  2. EU ministers prepare for all-night fiscal debate
  3. Spain's Nadia Calviño backed to be EIB's first female chief
  4. Is there hope for the EU and eurozone?
  5. Crunch talks seek breakthrough on EU asylum overhaul
  6. Polish truck protest at Ukraine border disrupts war supplies
  7. 'Green' banks lend most to polluters, reveals ECB
  8. Tense EU-China summit showdown unlikely to bear fruit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  3. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  4. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?
  5. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  6. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  3. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  4. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us