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UNICEF in Europe and Central Asia

June 1, 2022

A look at how UNICEF is working with governments and other partners across Europe and Central Asia in response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis and other challenges in the region.

The war in Ukraine has created a refugee crisis that dwarfs all others in recent history.

As of mid-May, 7.7 million people are internally displaced and 6.4 million people — including nearly two-thirds of all children in Ukraine — had crossed the border into Poland, Romania, Moldova and other neighboring countries.

UNICEF’s current efforts are focused both on providing emergency support inside Ukraine and on reaching vulnerable children and families who have fled to neighboring countries. To bolster capacities, UNICEF brought on additional staff to support surge missions in child protection, water and sanitation and supply and logistics, among other areas.

Here are a few highlights of UNICEF’s humanitarian response in the region related to the Ukrainian refugee crisis.

Blue Dots: Connecting the dots for refugees fleeing Ukraine

Over two dozen 'Blue Dots' – one-stop safe havens that provide support and services for families on the move — have been established along major transit routes in Moldova, Romania, Poland, Italy, Bulgaria and Slovakia. These safe spaces, jointly operated by UNICEF and UNHCR in close coordination with local authorities and partners, provide refugees with temporary respite, screenings and referrals to health and other critical services, and information to help them with their journey onward.

There are counseling services, including mental health and psychosocial support; play spaces for children; and services to help reconnect unaccompanied children with their families. Warm clothes, blankets, sanitary kits and toys, hygiene products, baby food and other supplies are also provided to those in need. Over 70,000 people have been reached through these Blue Dot centers so far. 

On April 2, 2022, in Medyka, Poland, 12-year-old Daria rests in a tent provided by the Scouting Association of the Republic (ZHR), a UNICEF local partner organization, as she waits with her family for the right moment to continue their journey to France. © UNICEF/UN0624233/Korta

The centers are linked — part of UNICEF's strategy to “connect the (Blue) dots” — in order to ensure that the rights of all refugee children are protected, and continue to be protected, every step of the way. Through monitoring and tracing services, UNICEF can help ensure that children arrive safely at their intended destinations and continue accessing the services they need once they get there. 

Poland: providing emergency services and education to Ukrainian refugees

As of May 25, Poland had received 3.5 million refugees from Ukraine. Working in partnership with the country's five largest municipalities, UNICEF will reach approximately 60 percent of the refugee children currently in Poland with emergency services.

In Warsaw and Krakow, UNICEF is partnering with city governments and local organizations to provide 65,000 child refugees access to education and learning opportunities. With UNICEF's support, more than 30,000 teachers will be trained in mental health support, how to teach a new language and manage students' catch-up learning.

Romania: expanding Blue Dots to meet longer-term needs

In Romania, UNICEF is working on extending Blue Dot assistance from immediate needs to more medium-term needs for refugees, by expanding services to provide education, health and protection.

One location in Brasov is already up and running, while plans are underway to open another in Bucharest. There are 30,000 people, primarily women and children, who have already benefited from these services, which include reconnecting family members who’ve lost contact in transit, child-friendly spaces, counseling and referral services for survivors of violence.

Moldova: training and education tools to support refugee response

An estimated 460,000 refugees fled to Moldova since the escalation of war in Ukraine began. In response, UNICEF is supporting refugee children and their families through the seven Blue Dots operating in the country while also working with partners to address needs in water, sanitation and hygiene, health and education.

For example, in an effort to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates and prevent wide-scale outbreaks during large population movements, UNICEF conducted 12 trainings that reached over 2,000 health, education and social service professionals across the country.

To help refugee and Moldovan children better integrate into the education system, UNICEF is providing 1,000 laptops to schools. A virtual chatbot for young refugees has been set up to provide answers to questions on EU/Non-EU border crossings and youth services.

In Moldova, over 52,000 refugees, mostly in female-headed households, have been reached through a UNICEF-UNHCR multi-purpose cash assistance program. 

On March 19, 2022, Ivan, right, and his sister Sofia from Mariupol, Ukraine, play with a psychologist in a child-friendly space at a Blue Dot hub in Moldova. © UNICEF/UN0610001/Vladimir

Here are some other examples of how UNICEF is supporting refugees:

  • protecting refugee children from Gender-Based Violence (GBV) remains critical to the organization’s humanitarian response; in Italy, UNICEF and partners developed advocacy messages in Italian on GBV to be distributed to the public, key stakeholders and policy makers
  • UNICEF continues to disseminate information to refugees in seven countries — Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Moldova and Slovakia — through Viber and U-Report to inform them of their rights and entitlements and to provide lifesaving information on services and how to access them; the chatbots include information on topics like "How to Stay Safe and Alert While on the Move” and “Moving Out of Ukraine"
  • in Slovakia, UNICEF and partners facilitated access to primary health care services for refugees; two Ukrainian pediatricians and two nurses have been identified to work at the primary health care clinic designated for refugees in Bratislava and visit an accommodation center three times per week
  • UPSHIFT, a project by UNICEF and partners, supported 100 young people — including many teenagers from Ukraine — to develop and present ideas for social start-ups related to humanitarian crisis management and refugee integration; 10 will be selected for funding

Kira, Arina and Sofia, three teenagers from Ukraine, learn about social entrepreneurship in the UPSHIFT program. © UNICEF/UPSHIFT

UNICEF programming continues to reach vulnerable children and families in several other countries in the region as well — a region that transformed itself after the collapse of the Soviet Union in terms of social structures, societies, infrastructure and borders, where economic growth has held steady and where incomes and standard of living have increased, but where challenges and inequalities remain.

The region as a whole continues to face ongoing challenges including earthquakes and floods, displacement and other effects of past conflicts in South Caucasus and the Fergana Valley, all of which contribute to overall humanitarian needs. Some 24 million of the region’s children are not receiving education and 2 million children are missing out on essential immunizations.

There are disadvantaged and excluded children in every part of the region, and these children continue to be the focus of UNICEF’s work: the poorest children, children with disabilities, children from particular ethnic communities and children living in residential institutions or in juvenile detention; refugee and migrant children who have fled to the region from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan to escape conflict, persecution and poverty.

UNICEF partners with governments and others across the region to improve national education, health, child protection and social welfare systems with the goal of meeting the needs of every child – including the most vulnerable. 

Learn more about UNICEF's work in Europe and Central Asia.

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Top photo: On April 2, 2022, in Poland, 6-year-old Artur embraces his 2-year-old sister Anna on a shuttle bus from Medyka to Przemysl after crossing the border from Ukraine with their mother, Oksana, to escape the constant bombardment of their home city of Sumy. © UNICEF/UN0624218/Korta