As a consequence of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which started on 24 February 2022, a high number of refugees – mostly women, children and elderly – moved to the Republic of Moldova. The number of arrivals in the Republic of Moldova has decreased compared to the massive influx at the beginning of the war in Ukraine, but the people arriving now are in a more vulnerable situation and are likely to stay for a longer time.

This situation has created emerging needs and the Council of Europe, within its mandate and after consultations with the national authorities, has adjusted the work plans of its on-going projects, within the scope and priorities of its Action Plan with the Republic of Moldova to respond to partners’ requests.

In this edition of our monthly newsletter, we discussed the current gaps with the State Secretaries of the partner institutions, namely the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection. We also discussed the changes initiated in the legislative and policy framework on the human rights of refugees and migrants, solutions in addressing overwhelming demands in an unprecedented situation and immediate measures in the field.

The State authorities have taken necessary measures since the very first moments of the crisis to manage the wave of refugees and ensure efficient border crossing, provide services and basic necessities, etc. The Government put in place an exceptional measure to provide temporary protection for displaced persons from Ukraine, which is already being implemented since 1 March. What does this emergency mechanism imply and how can it be applied for? 

Jana Costachi, State Secetary, Ministry of Internal Affairs: Through this Government Decision, the Government provides a clear mechanism to urgently implement temporary protection for displaced persons from Ukraine. Thus, as of 1 March 2023 the competent authority for foreigners has started the procedure of pre-registration of applicants for temporary protection.

The temporary protection is granted to displaced persons from Ukraine who cannot return to their country of origin and wish to stay in the Republic of Moldova. To apply for temporary protection, they must be present in the Republic of Moldova and meet eligibility criterias, which include the  proof of residence in Ukraine before 24 February 2022. The temporary protection is also granted to Ukrainian citizens who were in the Republic of Moldova before 24 February 2022, stateless persons with recognised status in Ukraine and third-country nationals other than Ukrainians who were granted international or national protection in Ukraine before 24 February 2022 and who cannot safely return to their country or region of origin. Family members of the mentioned persons are also eligible to apply for this form of protection.

Those who benefit from temporary protection obtain an identity document giving them access to primary and emergency health care services, general education for minors, social assistance measures and last but not least permission to stay in the country for the duration of the temporary protection.

The application procedure for temporary protection consists of two distinct stages. First, they have to register on the website, secondly, after setting an appointment with the General Inspectorate for Migration, the applicant will be interviewed and the original documents examined. Upon completion of this process, the identity document of the beneficiary of temporary protection will be issued.

The refugee crisis has served as a test of the national migration and asylum system, resulting in the reconsideration of the system, of the implementation processes of migration and asylum policies, of migration management, which has also materialized in the institutional reorganization of the competent authority for foreigners – the Bureau for Migration and Asylum – into the General Inspectorate for Migration. In practical terms, what is changing with the restructuring of this sub-division within the Ministry of Interior and how will the new institution contribute to a more efficient management of possible new arrivals of migrants and refugees? 

Jana Costachi, State Secetary, Ministry of Internal Affairs: The migration crisis caused by the armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation has left its mark, revealing the institutional gaps and insufficient human resources. To meet these challenges, the Bureau has mobilised almost all its staff to manage the refugee influx, at the risk of not being able to carry out its day-to-day work. In order to respond to the crisis, all the civil servants and civil servants with special status have been brought in. This mission included operational activities, managing processes, documenting them, collecting and processing personal data, and providing the necessary support in managing the crisis in a coordinated manner.

While ensuring the respect of fundamental rights and an efficient management of resources, the mission of the Inspectorate is to implement State policies in the field of management of migratory processes. Its role is to prevent and combat illegal stay of foreigners in the Republic of Moldova, handle readmission in accordance with bilateral treaties, implement State policies in the field of asylum and statelessness and support the integration of foreigners with a right of residence in the Republic of Moldova.  Drafting relevant legislation in these areas, constant improvement of the implementation of its mandate through justified interventions and effective solutions in the areas of activity falls also within its responsibility.

The reorganisation of the competent authority for foreigners involves the introduction of structural units, which became necessary for the efficient performance of the mandate of the entity. The reorganisation of the Bureau for Migration and Asylum contributes to the strengthening of capacities for the legal registration and documentation of migrants and refugees and it is aimed at  increasing the capacity to respond effectively to challenges and threats. Monitoring the migration situation, prompt operationalisation of the monitoring of the stay of foreigners on the territory of the country, timely processing of the files of applicants for the right of residence in the Republic of Moldova are part of the mandate as well.

At the same time, the amendments will increase access to information, consultation and documentation services for foreigners and applicants throughout the country through the Northern, Central and Southern Territorial Directorates, as well as contribute to the possibility of providing quality services requested by investors, concerning the documentation of foreigners arriving for work, family reunification, studies, etc. Similarly, the duties will be decentralized at territorial level, to be closer to the citizen and the applicant. Contrary to the current practice, the approval of administrative decisions will be carried out at the regional level and will cover all areas and types of services provided by the competent authority for foreigners (admission and regulation of residence, asylum, statelessness, registration of foreigners, etc.).

In this respect, the staff has been supplemented by 50 units, which will serve for the effective implementation of the functional competences and duties, for the organization and provision of quality services, the development of cooperation and strengthening of institutional capacities in preventing, monitoring, and combating illegal residence of foreigners.

The refugee crisis has been a difficult experience for both the Republic of Moldova and the countries in the region. The Republic of Moldova has faced new challenges in ensuring refugee protection, providing basic services, and identifying mechanisms for integrating refugees and migrants in the short and medium term. In this context, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection has taken several immediate measures/actions, including organising centres for temporary accommodation of refugees from Ukraine, providing them with food and basic necessities, etc. Also, the Ministry together with other key institutions is contributing to the implementation of the Programme on Management of Migration Flows, Asylum and Integration of Foreigners for 2022-2025 and the Government Decision on granting temporary protection. In your opinion, how will these initiatives help migrants and refugees in the Republic of Moldova to enjoy more rights and have a decent life away from home? 

Vasile Cușca, State Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Social Protection: Despite the economic problems that our country itself is facing, having recently gone through another crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Moldovan authorities have mobilized in an exemplary manner from the very beginning of the armed conflict in Ukraine and have done everything possible to make refugees feel safe in the Republic of Moldova and find a second home here.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, being responsible for social policies, has played an active role in managing the crisis and has made every effort to ensure that refugees benefit from social protection and that fundamental human rights are respected. As a matter of priority, measures have been taken to provide shelter for refugees, with more than 100 temporary accommodation centres being set up to house them and to ensure a constant supply of food and basic necessities.

Another major concern of the Ministry has been to assist vulnerable groups: in order to identify unaccompanied childrenwho may be at risk, an inter-sectorial cooperation mechanism has been set up and appropriate placement conditions have been created for refugees with disabilities, taking into account their special needs. At the same time, we have introduced facilities for employable people to help them find a job.  Together with the development partners, we launched several financial support programmes for refugees and host families of refugees from Ukraine.

Recently, the Government approved a Decision on granting temporary protection, which strengthens our efforts and ensures that refugees will continue to enjoy the right to education, social assistance measures and services, the right to work, without a residence permit, the right to primary and emergency health care, and others, once the measures under the decisions of the Commission for Exceptional Situations are no longer valid. We stand in solidarity with Ukrainian citizens and try to offer them the best possible conditions during their stay in our country.

In recent years, the Republic of Moldova has been affected by various crises (Covid-19, energy crisis, large arrivals of refugees and migrants that increased overnight, etc.). What has the Republic of Moldova learned as a state from the refugee crisis?  What challenges have you encountered in managing this crisis and how can the international organisations help the national authorities in this respect? 

Vasile Cușca, State Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Social Protection: Every crisis is a challenge for the present and a lesson for the future: it teaches us to learn by doing, to analyse the situation quickly and to make prompt decisions. Probably the most important lesson was that it is important to anticipate any risky situation, to do your homework and to be prepared for different scenarios even for unpredictable situations.

Being put overnight in a situation where you have to manage hundreds of thousands of people in need of shelter, food and other basic necessities, organising temporary accommodation in record time and finding the resources to provide them with the basic minimum – these were challenges that we certainly could not have faced without the support of our international partners, who have been with us from the first day and constantly continue to support us. Their interventions, financial and humanitarian support have reduced the burden on the state and helped us manage the refugee crisis and help integrate them into our society.

As of 24 February 2022, the Republic of Moldova has faced for the first time such a large number of refugees. Although, at that time, state institutions were not prepared for such a challenge and were not equipped with an interagency coordination mechanism, nevertheless the high level of involvement of the authorities, population, civil society, and other actors facilitated the management of the refugee crisis in an efficient way. In your opinion, what are the institutional and practical needs of the state at this moment and how the project “Strengthening the protection of the human rights of refugees and migrants in the Republic of Moldova” will help the national authorities? 

Tatiana Bedros, Senior Project Officer, Council of Europe: Indeed, the Republic of Moldova has shown tremendous solidarity and made important efforts to respond to the refugee crisis as effectively as possible and ensure that the basic rights of refugees and migrants are met.

However, the State’s mission in this regard does not stop there. The increased number of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of temporary protection represents a major challenge for the national asylum system, the relevant institutions, and the society at large. There is also a need to find long-term solutions.

Therefore, the adaptation of the existing legislative and policy framework on asylum and migration to the new realities and challenges, in line with the European standards, would be one of the priority needs in the field.

In addition, professionals play an important role in the implementation of policies and the efficient management of the flow of foreigners. It is, therefore, crucial to strengthen the skills and know-how of a wide variety of actors working in the field of migration and asylum. This will in turn ensure a human rights-based and gender-sensitive response to the needs of refugees and migrants.

We are pleased to emphasise that the state authorities have expressed their openness and ambition to implement European and international standards in the area of migration and asylum. In this regard, the Council of Europe project “Strengthening the protection of the human rights of refugees and migrants in the Republic of Moldova” aims to provide targeted support to national authorities and other actors to address the needs of refugees and migrants. Moreover, building on the rich body of Council of Europe standards, especially, the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, and promising practices in the field, this project will contribute to building resilient migration, asylum and reception systems in the long term.