Keystone Moldova: emergency response to the Ukrainian refugee crises

Keystone Moldova: emergency response to the Ukrainian refugee crises

Since February 2022, following the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova has been exposed to one of the largest refugee crisis in its history. According to the latest UNHCR statistics[1] over half million border crossings form Ukraine have been registered and over 85k individual Ukrainian refugees have been recorded. The vast majority of refugees are women and children, while older persons and people with disabilities, illnesses or other medical conditions need significant support and humanitarian assistance. As one of the leading Moldovan NGO offering support to persons with disabilities, Keystone Moldova has been pro-actively involved in the coordination of the emergency response plan through a set of synchronized interventions targeting the particular needs of Ukrainian refugees with disabilities. The current estimations project around 250k refugees entering and remaining in the country by December 2022.

Goal attainment on national level – advocacy

Following the solidarity appeal from the Moldovan Government, Keystone Moldova has been actively involved in the UNHCR Inter-sector Coordination Group and advocated for the establishment of the Task Force on Disability under the Protection Working Group (March 2022), composed of national NGOs, public authorities, donors, international organizations. The main objectives of this high-level intervention are:

  1. Mainstreaming disability in emergency response plans on Governmental level;
  2. Coordination of activities and funds for an efficient and quick response to the urgent needs of Ukrainian refugees with disabilities;
  3. Provision of an efficient reference mechanism to available services and resources;
  4. Joint communication and advocacy strategy to make the voice of persons with disabilities heard.

During the past three months, Keystone Moldova has been leading the Task Force on Disability and registered a series of important achievements, such as:

  • Coordination, communication and information exchange among stakeholders within regular Task Force meetings;
  • Development and implementation of a reference mechanism to support the needs of persons with disabilities;
  • Development of a practical checklist for the inclusion of disability aspects in the refugee crisis response and resilience building actions in Moldova;
  • Development of a joint advocacy action plan;
  • Advocacy for disability inclusion and mainstreamed disability in other sectors (focal points delegated to participate in meetings, checklist indicators);
  • Building partnerships with various existing and new donors, international NGOs;
  • Conducting several advocacy meetings with central public authorities to increase the accessibility of shelters;
  • Establishment of the regional EASPD hub in Moldova and building relationships with NGOs from other countries including Ukraine to ensure a safer transfer of persons with disabilities across the border;
  • Increasing the visibility of actions in disability field through weekly reports and contribution to the UNHCR newsletter;
  • Integration of disability aspects in several assessment tools;

Since end of February 2022, over 14 Moldovan NGOs (active members of the Task Force on Disability) have jointly provided support to over 1.400 Ukrainian refugees with various types of disabilities. The most common support included identification of housing possibilities, provision with nutrition and hygiene packages, health care, rehabilitation, informational and psychological support, adapted transportation, legal assistance, sign interpretation services.

The major difficulty in the context of this emergency situation is the lack of structured data about refugees with disabilities entering the country and the corresponding needs assessment. It required proactive effort to identify the targeted group for further assistance and support. Also, refugees’ facilities are barely accessible for persons with disabilities due to the poor infrastructure, unadapted bathrooms and other living spaces. There is a permanent need for specific nutrition (e.g. sugar-free, gluten-free), medication and diagnostic services, assistive equipment, support services and assistive equipment. In this context, the main effort of the Keystone Moldova implementing team is to cover these basic needs of refugees within available resources, taking into account the situation of the primary target group of the organization – local persons with disabilities.

Goal attainment on local level – direct support to refugees

In order to contribute to the emergency response plan, Keystone Moldova provided specific emergency support on community level and manifested instant interest in the majority of direct requests for partnerships coming from various donors. An overall budget of over 180.000 USD has been allocated to refugee actions of various scale, implemented by Keystone Moldova across the country and addressing the immediate needs of Ukrainian refugees in the past four months. The funds have been pro-actively identified from the following donors: East Europe Foundation (EEF), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), IsraAID, Mutualité Française, Girona Support – Fundació Tutelar de les Comarques Gironines. Existing partnerships have been strengthened and new collaborations established.

Fig. 1. Overview of incoming calls from Ukrainian refugees, Feb-Jun 2022
Fig. 1. Overview of incoming calls from Ukrainian refugees, Feb-Jun 2022

The main emergency initiatives conducted by Keystone Moldova on the community level:

  1. Keystone Hotline service, extension for Ukrainian refugees

One of the most efficient services developed and implemented by Keystone Moldova has been extended to cover the direct communication with the Ukrainian refugees via a non-stop Hotline. Also, beneficiaries can access the services provided by the Hotline by using a social media account (Viber).

The major objective of the Hotline for refugees is to:

  • Map the refugees with disabilities and their immediate needs;
  • Provide refugees with specific instant assistance and support within available resources;
  • Collect and structure the data about the emergency interventions (particular types of provided services);
Fig. 2. Basic demographics about refugees requested support through Hotline and Mobile team services
Fig. 2. Basic demographics about refugees requested support through Hotline and Mobile team services

According to the statistics of the Hotline service a total number of 488 calls from Ukrainian refugees have been recorded. The monthly dynamics shows a growing tendency of incoming requests (June statics covers first three weeks, see Fig. 1), which demonstrates an increased effort of the Hotline team. The most frequent requests for assistance came from women. Among beneficiaries adults dominate, although children and elderly with different types of disabilities are also significantly present (see Fig. 2).

Based on the experience accumulated during past four months, Keystone Moldova offered complex support consisting of: informational, psychological, legal services as well as referral to other services. One of the most valuable outcomes of the Hotline service is delivery of immediate support and assistance, a process that also involves professional counseling and a well functioning referral mechanism.

  1. Keystone health care service provided via Mobile team

Similarly to the Hotline service, the Keystone mobile team has expanded it’s activity towards the refugee crisis and followed the clear objective to provide the following types of assistance (see Fig. 3):

  • direct support – nutrition packages, hygiene packages, identification of accommodation, toys and educational material for children, particular home appliance, adapted transportation;
  • Medical assistance – medication (the absolute majority of cases), medical examination Keystone doctor , assistive devices, medical equipment and external medical services.

One of the challenges to be mentioned is lack of affordable specific medications and assistive devices due to the impossibility to import them from Ukraine. Also, a significant cases of serious illness such as heart attacks could be noticed among elderly refugees. Such situations require considerable funds.

  1. Playground service, Mother and Child Tent located at Palanca crossing point
Fig. 3. Overview offered support to refugees, Feb-June 2022
Fig. 3. Overview offered support to refugees, Feb-June 2022

Keystone was one of the first organizations that opened and maintained a playground for mothers & children at the Palanca crossing point between Ukraine and Moldova. This service aimed at offering a temporary space within a warm tent for:

  • Short-term assistance and supervision of children in order to offer mothers the possibility to arrange formalities when entering the country;
  • Assisted Educational activities (games, art supplies);
  • Baby changing station including hygiene packages;
  • Hot meals for the refugees but also for involved volunteers;
  • Basic items for children (temporary stroller, clothes, toys, etc.)
  • Informational support.

This activity involved a capacity building component on emergency response for volunteers and staff working 24 hours at the tent and was part of a new collaboration between Keystone Moldova and IsraAID. The initiative is scheduled to be continued during the following couple of months, thanks to it’s proven relevance.

Fig. 4 shows the statistics on registered monthly visitors and demonstrates the need to keep the service functional. April has been the most busy month – the highest number of adults and children could be noted.

Fig. 4 Visitors at the Mother & child tent located in Palanca, Feb-May 2022
Fig. 4 Visitors at the Mother & child tent located in Palanca, Feb-May 2022

The emergency initiatives implemented by Keystone Moldova have been complemented with communication tools (social media posts, webpage entries, press releases, interviews) aiming at dissemination of achievements, challenges, but also sharing personal stories of refugees with disabilities.