Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Fédération des Syndicats Libres de l'Enseignement (FSLE) of Romania has been undertaking many activities in solidarity with Ukrainian colleagues and children. Romanian educators are working as volunteers making sure schools are ready to receive Ukrainian students and organising rapid training for teachers to learn how to work with students suffering from war trauma.
The union has also facilitated access to EU teaching resources via the ERASMUS+ Programme.
For FSLE, “the Romanian education system must face the challenge to integrate many children and students. It is time to be united and act in support of our colleagues and Ukrainian children.”
The union reminded that, since the beginning of this crisis, almost 1 million Ukrainian citizens who have entered Romania. The flow of refugees from Romania and Moldova is moving fast to Western Europe, and the majority (over 61%) have already left Romania for other destinations in Western Europe (Austria, Germany, France, Spain), indicating that they have relatives and friends in those countries.
According to information provided by Romanian police forces, out of the total number of refugees remaining in Romania, 31.385 are children. However, the data is changing every day.
Registering unaccompanied minors
Through the National Authority for Child Protection, the Romanian Government is preparing a procedure for registering Ukrainian children who enter Romania without a parent or a legal guardian. They will be taken care of by child protection services in the border counties. Children from Ukraine who arrive in Romania unaccompanied will benefit from this protection. The government considers as ‘unaccompanied minors’ foreign citizens or stateless persons under the age of 18 arriving in Romania unaccompanied. A Task Force for Unaccompanied Children has been set up to quickly identify the most appropriate measures for the protection of unaccompanied minors. Measures have also been taken to ensure the necessary administrative infrastructure and human resources to provide refugee children from Ukraine with appropriate protection in such critical situations.
FSLE – through affiliated organisations in the cities of Maramures, Suceava, Botosani, Cluj and Bucharest – helped the border authorities via donations of clothes, beds, food and medicine, as well as toys and supplies for children.
Educators volunteer at the Romanian-Ukraine border
Thousands of teachers and education staff volunteers are at border crossings every day, helping to guide the refugees’ flow and providing official and accurate information on transit through Romania and the refugees’ rights in the country.
Also, cash donations of FSLE’s affiliates were redirected to the Romanian Red Cross and UNICEF Romania, because those organisations have procedures and support channels for people in war zones, which the union does not have.
Hotels and other accommodations of the union in the border areas were also made available to the authorities to receive refugees, while Romanian teachers and education workers accommodated refugee families in their homes.
FSLE stressed that the main problem in Bucharest and other big cities is that schools are already overcrowded with Romanian students. It met with State Secretary Szekely who agreed to start identifying spaces in Bucharest' schools because if the conflict continues, the number of children will rise further. While some schools can enroll 2-3 students, this issue will become more acute in autumn when the new school year will start, as Romania is not prepared to receive such a big flow of refugees in an education system that must already deal with many challenges.
Other key issues underlined by the Romanian education union include:
- The lack of teachers who can speak Ukrainian.
- The assessment of the refugee children’s education level
- The lack of textbooks in Ukrainian.
Local authorities in Romania are looking for Ukrainian refugee teachers and the Ministry of Education is planning on employing them. However, FSLE insisted, no rules or regulations for such employment currently exist.
Another issue is to identify all refugee children, as most of them are not in refugee centres: some have families or friends in Romania or agreed to stay in the homes of Romanian volunteers.
FSLE was involved in organising the solidarity mission in Romania of Education International’s European regional office, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and offered technical support for the ETUCE mission in Republic of Moldova.
The outcomes of these visits were particularly important in defining the contents of the Resolution for Peace in Ukraine, adopted at the ETUCE Special Conference held in Liege, Belgium, and in deciding on future courses of action.
The ETUCE delegation met with policymakers, education trade unions and trade union confederations, and European Commission Representations. It also visited several refugee centres, schools and universities that are integrating Ukrainian students.
The delegation called for greater social dialogue between the government and education trade unions in Poland, Romania and Moldova, and for better targeted support, including financial sustainability, for education systems and education personnel who are doing everything possible to ensure that all Ukrainian children can feel safe and continue their education.
During these missions, the insufficient funding for education was apparent, as was the lack of ICT tools and education equipment available while the majority of the Ukrainian children coming to Poland, Romania and Moldova, continue following Ukrainian online classes, which requires adequate ICT equipment and good internet connectivity.
Another persistent challenge in all three countries is the registration and tracking systems of refugees: numerous Ukrainian families consider these countries as transit countries or plan to return to Ukraine as soon as it is possible and therefore do not enroll their children in the local education system. In fact, FSLE pointed out that a growing number of Ukrainian refugees are already returning to their country.