Since the war in Ukraine started, over 650,000 refugees fled to Romania, most of them women and children. Romania is the European country with the longest common border with Ukraine and every day thousands of refugees enter through its border points.
Timisoara is located near the border with Hungary and Serbia, roughly a seven-hour drive from the Ukrainian border, however, the city has already welcomed several refugees and is expecting more while it seeks to increase its reception capabilities and contribute to the larger Romanian effort to save Ukrainian lives.
The city has an important airport as well as railroads connecting different parts of Romania and other countries, therefore, Timisoara is a hub for those escaping the war, and moving to other European countries where they have relatives and friends or just believe they can start fresh.
Whoever decides to stay will get help from the city.
Solidarity and hard work
After more than a month, eight vehicles with humanitarian aid were sent to Chernivtsi and over 1,500 Ukrainian refugees received direct support in Timisoara, through the campaign‘Timisoara for Ukraine’ – whether it is accommodation, meals, social vouchers, support with education or finding a job. This is possible thanks to the actions of 30 NGOs and institutions, more than 300 volunteers, and the local community, which contributed with donations.
Diana Donawell, Head of the International Cooperation Service of Timisoara explains that “the municipality took the initiative and is coordinating a local solidarity committee of about 30 organisations named ‘Timisoara for Ukraine’ to welcome refugees and to respond to the needs of our Ukrabiab twin city, Chernivtsi, which has asked for our help.
Chernivtsi is situated in the proximity of the Romanian border and is transited daily by numerous refugees on their way to the Romanian border. Chernivtsi and its region have become a refuge for about 100,000 people and their number is increasing every day. The city also sends part of the humanitarian aid they receive to other Ukrainian cities in need.”
The number of refugees changes every day, and the city hasn’t been able to keep track of everyone entering or passing by the city. Timisoara has a sizeable Ukrainian community, so the city also expects them to welcome their relatives.
And “the city is prepared for all scenarios,” says Donawell, “even to receive refugees for a longer period of time, providing access to schools and kindergartens for the children and jobs for the mothers.”
Despina Ungureanu, Head of the Participatory Governance Service, explained that “the Social Service Department together with LOGS – an NGO with experience working with migrants and other organizations providing social services – are managing a welcoming centre for Ukrainians coming to Timisoara. The aim is to assess their needs and find resources for medium and long term integration. For example, offering accommodation, employment, school etc. So far the majority is only passing through Timisoara.”
Ready to welcome refugees
The city also created a website and a Facebook page to inform those “who wish to get involved in welcoming the refugees and to collect donations to purchase the equipment and products our twin city needs,” says Donawell.
“For accommodation, we collaborate with both hotels and larger facilities like the Politehnica Univerity students’ dorm, but there are also individuals who offer their homes. To make sure everyone is safe, teams made up of one social worker and one psychologist check each accommodation. We only send people to checked accommodations,” says Ungureanu.
This is not the first time the city welcomes refugees. “We had a flow of Syrians, Afghans and people from other countries, so we have some experience. We have several specialised organisations in collaboration with state institutions and local authorities working with migration,” explained Ungureanu.
Donawell added that “Timisoara opened in 2009 an Emergency Transit Centre for people in urgent need of international protection. It is the first European facility of its kind and has a capacity of 200 places. It was set up under a tripartite agreement between the Government of Romania, UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).”
There are a lot of initiatives taking place all over the country and the central government is also trying to do its best to help cities with funding, expertise and programmes tailored for their specific needs. But more effort is and will be needed “because it’s been only a bit over a month since the war started and we must be prepared,” warns Ungureanu.