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How does the UN support Ukrainian refugees in Moldova? Interview with Simon Springett, UN Resident Coordinator

We interviewed Simon Springett, UN Resident Coordinator in Moldova and asked him about how the UN assists Ukrainian refugees in the country, how the energy crisis will affect the local population and about his expectations to the ILO as part of the UN team.

News | 22 April 2022

© UN Moldova 

Moldova has been host to 400,000+ Ukrainian refugees since the war broke out at the end of February. How does the UN help these refugees?

From the very beginning, the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) in Moldova has supported the Government of Moldova to respond to this unprecedented refugee crisis. Since 24 February, over 400k individuals arrived from Ukraine and of those roughly 100k Ukrainian refugees have remained in Moldova. The UNCT both supports individuals arriving from Ukraine transiting onwards to Romania, as well as the refugees staying in the country.

The UNCT helped to set up necessary infrastructure and services at border crossing points. We tend to immediate needs of refugees and ensure their protection e.g. with tents, food, hygiene kits, health services, legal aid, safe spaces for families and children. We supported local administrations and NGO partners to provide emergency accommodation. The UNCT and partners assist transit onwards to the EU, to Romania via bus routes directly from Moldovan border crossing points in the South (“green corridors”). We also provide transportation to railway stations, as well as flights to selected EU countries as part of the EU solidarity platform.

Concerning refugees remaining in Moldova, we provide cash-based assistance both to the refugees and Moldovan host families, since the majority of refugees are staying in private accommodation. We facilitate the integration of refugee children in local schools and kindergartens and the provision of education for both children and adolescents. The inclusion of refugees in ongoing employment and business development programmes is also in our focus.

Energy prices has been going up in Moldova and the war in Ukraine will further deepen the energy crisis. How do you think this will impact the population and what can the UN do to lessen the impact?

Energy crisis hit Moldova in the fall 2021 when the gas supply contract with Russia expired amidst an emerging global energy prices increase. Since March 2021, prices for fuel grew by 47.5%, heating prices increased by 19% and prices for coal and woods went up by over 41%, while gas prices more than doubled in Moldova. As the war in Ukraine evolves, it is likely that energy prices will remain high during 2022. Being an important production input, growing prices for energy are feeding inflation. In particular, high prices for fuel which accounts for roughly one third of the country’s agricultural production costs could transpose into higher food prices and contribute further to inflationary pressures. Moldova is already on the top of the list of countries with the highest inflation (22.2% in March 2022) in the region surpassing Russia and Ukraine. In addition, more than two thirds of Moldovans are vulnerable to energy poverty. Furthermore, the country does not produce sufficient energy from renewables to reduce vulnerability to energy price volatility and to diminish high dependency on the gas and electricity imports.

The supply chains disruptions caused by the war in Ukraine are likely to offset the post-Covid recovery and to substantially contract Moldova’s GDP. If the country’s economy is to fall by 7 per cent, it is likely that 13.3% of the population, who are already dependent on social transfers and remittances, could be living in poverty by end 2022 (i.e. below $5.5 per day). This means that 345,414 Moldovan citizens and over 90,000 Ukrainian refugees will require support to sustain their living. In this context, the UN works to ensure that all poor and vulnerable people have access to social assistance, including the families hosting refugees, especially those at risk of impoverishment. At the same time, the UN mobilised internal resources and donor assistance to provide access to finance and agricultural inputs (fuel, fertilisers, seeds) for small landholders and Small and Medium Enterprises in rural areas. At central level, the UN Moldova closely works with various stakeholders to ensure the regulatory environment is supportive of energy efficiency and the production of renewables.

What do you expect from the ILO as member of the UN community in Moldova?

The ILO has a unique mandate of promoting decent work and creation of new jobs among all development partners. It is therefore important that the ILO leverages its support by collaborating with International Financial Institutions and the Government to stimulate productive employment for both the Moldovans and the refugees seeking their integration into Moldovan society. In the short-term the ILO shall focus on supporting the Government of Moldova in adjusting the regulatory framework and the development of simple and practical mechanisms for the employment of refugees. For instance, the ILO can apply its expertise by stimulating the skills transfer of highly qualified Ukrainian workers and their retention in Moldova’s labour market.

At the same time as the regionalisation tendency advances, it is imperative that Moldova’s labour market becomes competitive enough to respond to foreign direct investment requirements with highly qualified and competent human resources. This can be achieved by strengthening collaboration between academia and private sector both within the country and between Moldova and the countries interested in regional labour specialisation. Establishment of apprenticeship or mentorship schemes, strengthening cross-border collaboration with EU research centres and upgrading curricula to respond to the future skills needs could be viable strategies. This is rather a longer-term process which requires a broad range of activities starting from planning skills needs to revision of school curricula and creating stimuli packages for the private sector to invest in people’s skills upgrade.