First-hand experience of refugees: “In Moldova there is room for anyone”

December 18, 2022

Since the onset of the war in Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova is hosting the highest number of Ukrainian refugees per capita compared to other EU and EU-neighbouring countries. For those fleeing the violence, crossing the border safely, finding accommodation, getting food and medicines and keeping in touch with the loved ones left behind is a priority, while also figuring out what to do next.

That’s why UNDP Moldova decided to first try and understand better what could come next for Ukrainian refugees, to better realign our support programmes and sustain the capacities of host communities already strained by the compounded crises of the war, energy and cost of living.

This question led us to collect first-hand experiences with both Ukrainian refugees and locals.

We collected over 200 stories from a majority of refugees (92%) and from a few volunteers (8%) helping to welcome and accommodate refugees, some of them Ukrainian themselves.

From April to July 2022, we interviewed mostly women (87%), as they constitute 65% of the refugees’ population. All respondents were of different ages, levels of education and income. About 80% of interviewed refugees identified themselves as a vulnerable group, including people with disabilities, LGBTIQ+, Roma people (8%).

Focused on everyday needs

Interviewees conveyed their heartfelt appreciation for the support they had received, be it food, shelter, hygiene items and cash support.

“We are happy with everything, we were welcomed [by volunteers]; the food is excellent, … the room we are accommodated in is clean and comfortable. My older child connects to lessons online. […] We are grateful. People in Moldova are very responsive.” (woman refugee, Bălți, 50-59 years).

Most respondents mention they focus on meeting their basic/immediate needs first, while inclusion and long-terms plans come later.

Overall, refugees did not feel treated differently, with the exception of a few scattered cases when looking for a job, where they reported having felt judged by “where you come from”.

“I prefer not to argue with anyone and not to tell my opinion. If not specifically asked, I do not mention that I’m from Ukraine.” (woman refugee, Chișinău, 30-39 years)

A job while in Moldova? Uncertainty makes the answer difficult

Finding a job while in Moldova does not seem to be a priority for most of interviewees– only 13% were actively looking for employment. Uncertainty and the feeling they might need to move forward to other country or back home any day is making the decision to settle more difficult.

“I have found out about professional trainings offered by the Employment Agency and I am learning how to become a masseuse. Because I can leave my children with someone I trust, I can go to classes,” mentions a woman refugee, Bălți, 40-49 years.

To note, UNDP, as a strategic partner of the National Employment Agency, contributes to supporting Ukrainian refugees seeking employment through outreach activities including job fairs, labour market counselling, referral, and mediation services, and facilitating skills recognition. Also, UNDP is supporting professional, IT and Romanian language courses for refugees.

“I’m taking free hairdressing training. It’s interesting – we communicate, we distract ourselves from the war and learn new skills,” noted a woman refugee, Balti, 60-69 years.

Ukrainian refugees learn sewing in Bender (Tighina). The vocational courses are supported by UNDP.

How can we help?

People’s narratives and the analysis of the stories reveal that Moldovan citizens care about the impact of the war on people from Ukraine and deal with the situation of refugees with empathy. The main issue is that people don’t know what to do to help (45%) or believe that they don’t have the ability to help (28%).

“Volunteers are ready to help everyone and solve almost any problem! But sometimes there are questions that cannot be solved in days or even weeks; this gives us a sense of great uncertainty in terms of our future.” (woman refugee, Chișinău, 19-29 years old)

Listening to refugees’ experience and asking them to think about their future proved to be a fruitful exercise. While local communities and development partners adapted and improved coordination of efforts to meet immediate needs after the onset of the war, now more focus on a longer-term approach is needed.

To help refugees successfully integrate in Moldovan communities, build their confidence and independence, we need to encourage them to seek economic opportunities, while lowering barriers (such as linguistic ones) to the labor market. Integrating refugees would also benefit host communities and help overcome existing social, cultural, and economic pressures while contributing to the economic development of Moldova.  

“To a new family I would say ‘welcome!’ Moldova is a multinational state and there is room for everyone.”
A Moldovan citizen, Bălți 50-59 years old