Conference journal: Working groups key takeaways -Part III

Re:think bridges featured three working groups which made our participants take a deep dive into the sub- themes of the conference: 

  1. The integration of refugees and migrants in social services, education, health and labor markets 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 

The facilitators and contributors discussed the good practices and policy considerations that enabled or hindered their responses on the ground in the specific contexts they were coming from. Perspectives from the 25 different countries participants came from added richness to the discussions.  

All working groups agreed that community structures offering integrated services to refugees were key to a collaborative, contextualised and cost efficient approach to refugee integration. Many of the community level facilities saw a significant impact and acceptance increase when mental health and psychosocial support was ensured, together with access to technology to ensure education and recreational services for children and youth. This was also appreciated by caretakers, as they could keep in touch with family back in Ukraine or other countries. 

Voica Tomuș, Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF highlighted a key prerequisite for any good practice: “For an intervention to be considered a good practice, it should be adaptable and contextualized, based on the knowledge and expertise of local actors. Moreover, a good practice is always based on evidence and quality data, and should in turn be documented and generate impact data that can be used when replicated in other contexts.

Many of the experts and implementing organizations present offered examples of models developed in their specific contexts. 

Gareth William-James, an independent Eurochild Member, presented how the  Child center approach “Virtual schools” in the UK have proved very efficient in improving educational outcomes for refugee children in alternative care: “In this model, local authorities have the ownership of an integrated solution for all aspects of education, with dedicated local grants and a custodian for each child.” 

Each child has a personal education plan with specific objectives:

  • the education plan is part of the child’s care plan
  • it covers the full range of the child’s education and development needs
  • it identifies specific needs and related support
  • it monitors progress in detail and ensures dialogue with the child so that …
  • ensures children can realize their achievements and aspirations
  • identifies extra-curricular activities and interests
  • reviewed termly (three times a year)
  • meetings involve, at a minimum, the child, carer, social worker and designated teacher.

In March 2023,  7290 unaccompanied asylum seeking children (0-17) arrived in the UK, with a concerning 16% of them being reported as „independently living”.

You can read here the latest evaluation of the work of Virtual Schools.  The study was originally hosted by the Rees Centre at the University of Oxford and has now been handed over to the University of Exeter and published jointly with the National Association of Virtual School Heads.

The  Resilience Innovative Facilities are implemented by Terre des Hommes in multiple countries. “Mental health and psychosocial support, coupled with technology for children and youth, are key elements in the safe spaces we offer for children and youth in our facilities. A key success factor is our engagement of children as actors of change – they find solutions to their own and their peers’ problems”, said Laura Ghica, Terre des Hommes Country Director in Romania.  

Anna Burtea, Executive Director at “Heart of a Child Foundation” Romania, talked about the importance of Education Hubs in mapping differences between the host country education system and the Ukrainian one, and adapting services to ensure children can succeed in both, especially as the vast majority of refugees want to return to their countries when the war finishes. 

935,000 Ukrainian refugees entered in Romania through Galați and Isaccea border points and over 12,000 refugees have sought Temporary Protection in Galați where the Heart of a Child Foundation activates, making it one of the cities most significantly impacted.

Aurel Grauer representing the Including Children Affected by Migration (ICAM) network talked about their  Whole School Approach, proven in many European countries as critical in creating a welcoming environment in schools for migrant children to be able to adapt and have good learning outcomes.  

A particular model was presented by Alexia Stouraiti from the Roots Research Center Greece, that showed how a Restorative Justice pilot initiative in New Zealand was rolled out in 23 other countries, including for refugee children in Greece. “The intervention takes into account the impact of the crisis on children, including how post-traumatic stress disorder, gender based violence, racism and xenophobia can impact levels of delinquency and ability of children to adapt to their new countries. Results from our approach shows that establishing family group conferences that can be involved in the child welfare system, working with professional stakeholders from the police and social services, can have a significant impact on the justice system”. 

Silviu Ioniță, from ACS Olimpic Snagov talked about how sport can play a particularly important and healing role for refugees: „As well as physical health benefits, sport can provide a sense of purpose and direction for young people recovering from the traumas of the refugee experience. Sport also offers an opportunity for social interaction, and involvement in sport can therefore be a particularly effective means of promoting refugees’ participation in Romanian society, and introducing refugees to Romanian culture.

In many contexts, mobile teams that complemented community centers were key to the success of interventions, especially when they ensured the availability of  translation services. 

Another important success factor were initiatives that ensured refugees were actors of change in their communities – programs that ensured refugee children and youth were involved in decision making and could design solutions for their peers, but also initiatives where  refugees could be volunteers or paid staff in programs for refugee or could start their own refugee led organizations to advocate for issues that were not yet considered or required adjustments of policies. 

Collaborative efforts among civil society actors, local authorities and international humanitarian experts were seen as a key success factor. 

Louis Ridon, Advocacy Expert at CARE France presented the model developed by CARE International with the platform of 35 local and national NGOs: “We were able to reach over 240,000 beneficiaries in Romania and Moldova with integrated health, education, psychosocial support, labor market integration and protection, our partners being the backbone of the intervention and ensuring all services were contextualized and adapted to the needs of refugees.” 

Mariana Arnăutu from Word Vision explained that “working as a confederation with a national office in the responding countries meant we could  work closely with international surge experts from our global and regional teams, but we could also ensure interventions were contextualized and models from elsewhere were not merely replicated here where conditions were extremely different”.  

Participants also discussed the benefits of having key policies and frameworks that ensured they had a legal framework to develop interventions, including the EU Temporary Protection and National Response and Integration plans, the EU Strategy on the Rights of Children, the EU Child Guarantee (2021) and the  National Action Plans (2023) that include provisions for refugee children, the EU Migration Pact (2021, currently under negotiation). Many civil society actors link between EU and national level plans as a key enabler for their interventions. 

Chiara Cateli, Policy Officer on EU funds for inclusion, migration and asylum from ECRE, cited the definition of „inclusion” as stated in the  EU Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027: „Inclusion for all is about ensuring that all policies are accessible to and work for everyone, including migrants and EU citizens with migrant background. This means adapting and transforming mainstream policies to the needs of a diverse society, taking into account the specific challenges and needs of different groups.

For further reading on the access to education and to Socio-economic Rights for Beneficiaries of Temporary Protection, please consult the ECRE website.

An important resource presented at the conference was the Humanitarian Leadership Academy, providing learning resources to support global humanitarian responses. Please check the Ukraine Response Learning Hub for valuable learning resources on gender based violence, child protection, education, mental health etc.

The Response Learning Hub presents a coordinated central catalog of free learning resources tailored to build the knowledge and skill set for local actors to holistically respond to the Ukraine crisis. The resources are provided by DEC/UK Aid-funded Capacity Strengthening Task Force members, including Save the Children, Humanitarian Leadership Academy, RedR, International Medical Corps, PLAN International, and its partners. The Task Force aims to map and share learning needs and opportunities and provide learning, technical expertise, and development support. It forms a longer-term approach that supports locally emerging initiatives and drives the shift of the power of handling crises to those most affected and best placed to respond.

Participants of the three working groups highlighted some constraints as well, including the limited funding for NGOs and local authorities to continue offering social protection and services to children and their families, and the short term nature and predictability of public provisions for refugee assistance, with an example being the 50/20 program in Romania offering shelter and food stipend for refugees. 

In terms of challenges and priorities for the next year, Anna Burtea, Heart of a Child Foundation, presented the major areas that pose difficulties for local interventions and services provision:

  1. Service provision: NGOs are relying on private donations for service provision and staff salaries, due to the decrease in international funds there could be an important reduction in services for mothers and children.
  2. Local authorities preparedness: Local authorities are unprepared to offer social services for refugees. There is a lack of a robust system for social support from local governing bodies and this increases pressure on NGOs to fill the gap in service provision.
  3. Housing and Livelihood: 85%  refugee dependency on the current program for accommodation which bring extreme insecurity for the future and an urgent need for sustainable housing solutions
  4. Education: Urgent need for addressing the gap in education resources for refugee children, the criticality being an insufficient capacity to provide translation and encouragement for effective integration.
  5. Health: Technical problems with the health system platform and the reluctance of doctors to accept Ukrainian patients, are posing a great challenge because of increased paperwork requirements for Ukrainian patients, difficulties in registering with a Family Doctor, acquiring prescribed medications, and accessing specialist care.

Beatrice Darie, Program Director, Bethany Foundation, presented their community center in Iași, Romania. Since the beginning of the war, Bethany Foundation has supported over 500 children and their families in the community hub.

The Bethany operational model for a community centre includes:

  • Team training and continuous adjustment of services,
  • Gradual diversification of services based on emerging needs of people from Ukraine,
  • Case management
  • Community HUB

The operational model˝ s succes, the program director said, comes from a strong collaboration with 11 National NGOs and 9 international NGOs, always assessing the emergent needs of the Ukrainian community and adjusting the services provided accordingly.

Coming close to the 2 year mark, when much of the international assistance is ending, there is a question around the ability of local actors (civil society organizations and sub-national authorities) to continue offering to the sheer numbers of refugees remaining in their communities, but also adapt to the new policies developed at national and EU level for refugees. There is a question of sustainability given shrinking resources and ownership of interventions at local and national levels, given the many competing needs of other vulnerable groups. 

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.