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Over 2.5 million refugees have crossed the Polish border and over 14.000 children from Ukraine are already enrolled in schools in the region of Silesia in Poland. In Czechia, there are currently over 300.000 refugees, of whom 80% of the adults are women and 50% are children.

These numbers were reported by members of the European Social Network (ESN) during an online discussion on 31 March gathering ESN members from Ukraine’s neighbouring countries, Romania, Czechia, and Poland.

ESN members with responsibility for social services shared their experience of the immediate responses and expressed their thoughts on the challenges faced in light of the current humanitarian crisis. Social services support to Ukrainian people fleeing the crisis, mostly women with children, is not just about the initial response but also about overarching responses that address long-term social inclusion needs.

The European Commission was represented by Ruth Paserman, Director for Funds Programming and Implementation, to engage with ESN members and outline the support the European Commission has put in place since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine.

Ensuring sufficient funding and support for social services

A clear message from all the speakers was that the pressure on social services is currently high and will increase. Aurel Mocan, Executive Director at The Social and Medical Services Directorate in Cluj-Napoca, Romania expressed that continuous support from the European Commission to ensure EU funds are sufficiently allocated to local authorities is crucial to maintaining quality social services.

In Cluj-Napoca, a support group has been created in partnership with local authorities and civil society to support refugees from Ukraine to quickly identify the social needs of families and individuals. Access to accommodation, food, clothing, psychological support, and legal advice on employment and administrative matters are some of those identified needs.

Despite the exceptional support, the lack of financial resources and qualified social workers continues to be a major challenge.  

Increased pressure on social services in the coming months

Jiri Horecky, President of the Association of Social Care Providers in Czechia explained that nursing home patients are also being moved to Czechia from Ukraine. They anticipate increased pressure on social services as the crisis continues. Social services need to be prepared to support a higher number of older persons and persons with disabilities arriving to neighbouring countries in the second wave of migration.

Jiri highlighted that they expect costs of up to one billion EUR and have requested the European Commission for support.


Children’s access to education and accommodation

One of the common challenges highlighted by all speakers was ensuring that children arriving from Ukraine have access to primary education.

Another major issue, highlighted by Katarzyna Modrakowska, Head of the European Social Fund Department of the Region Silesia in Poland is the need for additional support for those children (around 800, so far) who have arrived without legal guardians.

She explained that increasing the availability of nurseries, children's clubs, and the establishment of appropriate facilities for children from Ukrainian orphanages and foster families was another urgent challenge.

Funding to make social services more resilient

Ruth Paserman acknowledged the solidarity shown by neighbouring countries, and the work carried out by ESN members. She encouraged participants to use EU funds through the CARE proposal available for local and regional public authorities to shape social services responding to long-term challenges such as affordable housing, support in education, employment, development of child care facilities, and providing mental health support to families, etc.

This online conversation clearly shed light on the current pressure on social services in Europe, which will increase in the coming months in view of the unprecedented mass movement from Ukraine.

The topic of ensuring sufficient EU funds to build resilience social services in times of crisis will continue to be one of the focus areas of ESN. As part of this work, ESN will continue to report on the important work carried out by our members to provide social services and integrate refugees from Ukraine into their local communities.

Read this opinion piece by ESN’s CEO, Alfonso Lara Montero in EUobserver how east Europe’s social services cope with Ukraine refugees.

If you missed the online discussion or want to watch it again, watch the recording here.