Embracing humanity: RE:Think bridges- Part I

The Federation of Non-Governmental Organizations for Children, together with CARE France, ICVA, SERA Romania and EUROCHILD, hosted a two-day international conference in Bucharest, bringing together over 200 participants from more than 25 European countries to share good practices in the field of inclusion of children and displaced, refugee and migrant people. The role of civil society in the integration of refugees in European contexts was one of the central themes discussed. 

The “RE:think bridges” conference was organized on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, which forced millions of children to leave their homes in search of safety. They are just the latest arrivals, joining more than 3.3 million Syrians under temporary protection and hundreds of thousands arriving in Europe seeking asylum from African and Middle Eastern countries.

Since the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, SERA ROMANIA Foundation has coordinated a large humanitarian action with the support of strategic partners CARE and FONPC, reaching more than 205,000 beneficiaries. During the nearly 24 months of conflict, CARE France, through the SERA ROMANIA Foundation and FONPC, together with a network of 35 organizations in Romania and the Republic of Moldova, supported almost 124,000 refugees in Romania, 11,900 in the Republic of Moldova and almost 70,000 in Ukraine.

Bogdan Simion, President of FONPC and Executive Director of SERA Romania, said at the opening of the conference: “Our intervention started from the first day of the conflict and then involved the development of new services and professionalization. As a child rights organization, rebalancing our objectives in a very short time was a huge effort. But from our old job we know that children’s rights are not just statistics, they are individual issues, which means tailoring interventions. Tailoring support for millions of Ukrainians transiting your country is a challenge. With the support of every local organization in this intervention, we have been able to reach out, to support these families, made up of 80% women and children, to listen to and understand their needs and to respond locally, as individually as possible. Localization means covering the entire surface of Romania, as well as Moldova, as well as Ukraine. When you think of a system that has to grow this much, it is quite difficult to implement. But it makes most sense to use the institutions already in the area. The implementation was done by local NGO’s.

Mara Surugiu, representing the FONPC Children and Youth Council, also spoke at the opening of the conference: “I think we all remember February 2022. We all knew that Romania needed to do something. Even us, children and youth, got involved. We packed food items, organized events to build bridges in which we could better get to know our Ukrainian counterparts. Communication between Romanian and Ukrainian children and youth is vital. The Ukrainian children themselves are best able to represent their needs. That’s why we are here for cooperation and exchange of best practices. We want a reality where peace can prevail

We are all following the same direction.It is important to keep going.We need to work collectively and aim to do the best we can for the well-being of children and their carers,” said Ally Dunhill – Director of Policy, Advocacy and Communication, Eurochild.

Alexandre Morel – Co-Director General, CARE France started his speech in the first part of the conference with thanks: “Thanks to SERA and FONPC for agreeing to lead this localisation effort, thanks to the 33 organizations that have been the backbone of the humanitarian response we have been carrying out, and thanks to national and local authorities for their critical role in coordinating the response to the crisis in Ukraine“.

Davina Said, Head of Forced Migration, International Council for Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), said in the introductory session, referring to the conference slogan – “Embracing humanity” – that she hoped all those present in Bucharest or in the webcast could identify what unites them in humanitarian work. „The world at times can feel quite bleak, and I hope that we can recognize what unites us, which means recognizing the basic rights of people. All people deserve to have their humanity recognized” „Localization processes are key to promoting equal power, enabling structures, and equitable partners amongst all stake holders. Localization fosters ownership of the response by local actors”, Davina Said emphasized.

The aim of the two-day conference was to connect and exchange best practices between European humanitarian aid specialists, representatives of central and European authorities and non-governmental organizations. 

Romanian Education Minister Ligia Deca spoke of using the “capacity gained in this unprecedented crisis” to better integrate other children into more inclusive schools. “We have 36,000 children integrated in one form or another into the education system – hearing, enrolled or participating in educational hubs that provide a transition bridge to the education system. More and more children are enrolling in school in Romania and receiving support, including through examination procedures, so that they can go through both systems and have their studies recognised. We have mapped the differences in the curriculum between the Romanian and Ukrainian systems.

We must never forget that people are at the heart of any humanitarian intervention. Sometimes bureaucracy keeps you away from the experiences and stories of the people you need to help. We need everyone’s experiences and expertise to build and rethink sustainable bridges,” said Emmanuella Croce, Co-Director General of CARE France.

Themes and best practices

Speakers’ interventions and presentations by participating organizations focused on four main themes, addressed in working groups, presentations of good practices and debates from different perspectives:

  1. The integration of refugees and migrants in social services, education, health and labor market in European countries – good practices and policy comparisons.
  2. Localization in large refugee and migrant crises in Europe – inclusive partnership models and the role of local and national NGO
  3. Migrant and Refugee Children – protection and integration needs and good practices 
  4. Intersectionality panel – dimensions of vulnerability & the forgotten ones (gender, age, disability etc)

An important focus was placed on the dimensions of vulnerability in a panel that presented several models of good practice. 

Ioan Tănase, programme director at Roma Education Fund presented the beginning of the humanitarian intervention from the perspective of Roma refugees in Ukraine, emphasizing the importance of communication in Romani language through volunteers present at the transit points, and then described the activities of the day center for Roma children that the foundation organized in Bucharest. 

Andreea Iațu, vice-president of Autism Baia Mare, described the rehabilitation activities for children with disabilities that the organization has managed to support during this period. 

Marianna Onufryk, an expert in inclusion and child protection, spoke about best practice models from the European Disability Forum, but also about the difficulties faced by parents of children with disabilities, given that temporary protection does not offer the classification of children in an official degree of disability that would allow access to free services and support levers for European citizens. 

Agnieska Nosowka from the Polish Center for International Aid presented the model of supporting elderly refugees and the difficulties of communication and information for people who are not digitally literate, do not have a smartphone or a bank account.

Daniela Draghici from ANAIS brought the whole room to its feet for a mini self-defense workshop and spoke about the importance of empowering displaced people through physical activities that strengthen their self-confidence.

More information about the speakers’ biographies can be found on the conference website.

During these two days we heard several words repeated over and over again: trust, support, localisation, sustainability, equal power, equal opportunities, local expertise, civil society expertise, flexibility, mindset change, needs-based services and research,” said Daniela Boșca, FONPC Executive Director, summarising the two days’ discussions.  

“Where are we now in this challenge?” asked Claudiu Crăciun, PhD in political science. “Refugees are today the target of hate entrepreneurs who build their political profile by attacking. We are in a difficult moment because many organizations operate in the paradigm of urgency. But the war is not over and it wears you down because it drains your emotional resources. Civil society in Europe is under political and economic siege, plus overwhelmed by more and more responsibilities hanging over its shoulders. Resources are dwindling by the day and the pressure is also compromising what we are already doing. Challenges of this magnitude cannot be solved without public budgets, budgets that exist and must work for People. We need funding for non-governmental organizations so that they can survive and support those in need.


During the two-day conference, 12 international, national and regional organizations presented their models of intervention in the field of humanitarian assistance and inclusion of displaced persons. ICVA, Eurochild, ECRE, FONPC, Terre des Hommes Romania & Regional Hub Budapest, QArts, ASSOC, Profilaxis, Star of Hope, People in Need (PIN), SERA & CARE set up interactive presentation stands and answered questions from over 200 participants (online & offline).

Partner Visits

At the end of the second day of the conference, more than 70 international participants visited refugee programmes run by NGOs or local authorities in Bucharest. Carusel, RomExpo, Social Incubator, International Foundation for Child and Family, Aliat and Museum of Abandonment welcomed international guests and presented some of the activities and services they provide to people from Ukraine.

Over the next month, the RE:Think conference website will host articles about the best practice models presented and videos of the key moments.

The RE:think bridges conference is part of the “Help to Help Ukraine” project, funded by Care – a global confederation that has been fighting poverty and social injustice for over 75 years and is coordinated and implemented at national level by SERA Romania Foundation, with the support of Care France and FONPC (Federation of NGOs for Children).