Romanian trade unions: “The education system has to take over and integrate a large number of children and students”


Following the military invasion by the Russian Federation on the Ukraine, that started on the 24 February 2022, millions of people have been displaced fleeing the war zone to the neighbouring countries, the majority of them are women and children. Most of the persons leaving the Ukraine and seeking refuge elsewhere, are crossing into EU and other neighbouring countries such as Poland, Romania, Moldova, Slovakia and Hungary. Many education trade unions in these countries have already expressed solidarity with the Ukrainian people and stepped in to support refugees, especially children and youth.

Today, we spoke to Alexandra Cornea from FSLE, Ioana Voicu from FSE ‘SPIRU-HARET’ and Anca Sipos from ALMA-MATER, three ETUCE member organisation in Romania, about their actions on supporting Ukrainian teachers and refugees coming to their country.


Due to the ongoing military conflict in the Ukraine, Romania is experiencing an unprecedented influx of refugees, most of whom are women and children. Could you tell us what is the current situation in your country and what is the impact on the education system?

Alexandra Cornea: Since the beginning of this crisis, until March 22, 24h00, at national level, 518.643 Ukrainian citizens entered Romania. The flow of refugees from Romania and Moldova is moving fast to Western Europe. The majority of these people (over 61%) have already left Romania to other destinations in Western Europe (Austria, Germany, France, Spain) declaring that they have relatives and friends in these countries.

According with the information provided by the Romanian Police, out of the total number of refugees remaining in Romania, 31.385 are children, but the data is changing every day. Through the National Authority for Child Protection, the 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 the child protection services in the border counties. Children from Ukraine who arrive in Romania unaccompanied benefit from the protection. The government regulates the status of unaccompanied minors as foreign citizens or stateless persons under the age of 18, who arrive in Romania unaccompanied. A Task Force for Unaccompanied Children has been set up with a view to quickly identify the most appropriate measures for the protection of the unaccompanied minors. Measures have also been taken to ensure the necessary administrative infrastructure and human resources to provide protection to refugee children from the Ukraine in such critical situations.

Ioana Voicu: Indeed, Special Operative Groups to attend the unaccompanied minors are organised in every county and in Bucharest. In Timisoara, a city in Western Romania, for example, there is a group of 16-year-old athletes whose parents are still in the Ukraine: they have been placed in the University’s dorms and are provided with everything they need. The Romanian Government also adopted urgent measures to provide help for the refugees (by means of an Emergency Ordonnance/Decree) including the right to receive free medical assistance within the Romanian national health system, education, special services for people with special needs and elderly, transportation, etc.

Anca Sipos: At the level of Higher Education, I can highlight the following aspects. We have students from the Moldovan Republic who speak Russian or Ukrainian. They translate between us and the Ukrainian people. Each university from Romania accommodated Ukrainian refugees in the free places on the campuses. Our students participate in aid actions regarding food and other things that the refugees require. Ukrainian students can also continue their studies in our universities. At present, we are not aware which documentation they require to continue their studies in order to stay. Furthermore, the universities try to contact business societies to find workplaces for those who want to work.

What actions is your union taking to address these issues? What would you demand from your government?

Ioana Voicu: SPIRU-HARET donated 20,000 € to the Red Cross to help the Ukrainian refugees. We also demanded from the Romanian Ministry of Education to find solutions for the education of refugee children. As a result, the Ministry of Education issued special decrees and dispositions to provide educational support to all the citizens (pupils, students, PhD students etc.) affected by the military conflict from Ukraine, stipulating that all those who need further studies should be accepted first as an "audience", and after their level of knowledge is assessed or if they present relevant documents, they should be enrolled in a study level corresponding to their knowledges and competencies. They also have free housing in school dormitories, food allowance, free school supplies, clothing, and books. The health of Ukrainian children will be monitored in the schools’ medical facilities, and they benefit from free special counseling and assistance. The Ministry of Education also provides a webpage with necessary information including orders, application forms etc., translated in Ukrainian. 

Anca Sipos: At local level, each trade union participates in the actions that I mentioned before. From our government we demand to respect our laws and to allocate 6% of the Gross Domestic Product to education. In this way, we could also support the Ukrainian students who will want to study in our country.

Alexandra Cornea: FSLE (through affiliated organisations in the cities of Maramures, Suceava, Botosani, Cluj, Bucharest) helped the border authorities with donations of clothes, beds, food and medicine, as well as toys and supplies for children. Thousands of teacher and education staff volunteers are at border crossings every day, helping to direct the flow of refugees, providing authorised and accurate information on transit through Romania and on the rights that refugees have in our country. Also, the cash donations of our affiliates were redirected to the Romanian Red Cross and UNICEF Romania, because these organisations have procedures and support channels for people in war zones which we do not have. The hotels and other accommodation of the union in the border areas were also made available to the authorities to receive refugees. Our colleagues accommodated refugee families in their homes.

The main problem in Bucharest and other cities is that the schools are already overcrowded with our own students. FSLE met with the State Secretary, Mr. Szekely and we agreed to start identifying spaces in Bucharest' schools because if the conflict continues, the number of children will rise further. There are schools that can enroll 2 - 3 students (I personally helped yesterday to enroll seven students in five schools), but the issue will become more complicated. The main problems also include the lack of teachers who know Ukrainian, the assessment of the education level of refugee children, and the lack of textbooks in Ukrainian. Local authorities in Romania are looking for Ukrainian refugee teachers and the intention of the Ministry of Education is to employ them but for the moment we do not have rules and regulations for such employment. Another issue is to identify all refugee children because the majority of them is not in the refugee centres: some have families in Romania or friends or simply agreed to stay in the homes of Romanian volunteers.

How could ETUCE and education trade unions in other countries support your union in dealing with these challenges?

Anca Sipos: We are demanding from the EU to allocate more funding to the Romanian agriculture and food industry: that way, Romania will be able to cover a part of the agricultural products and aliments that the Ukraine and the Russian Federation have supplied until now. Between the two world wars Romania was the European granary.

Ioana Voicu: We (our federation and the affiliated organisations) continue to be actively involved in helping the refugees at the borders (the Northern custom’s points and also the Eastern ones, including Isaccea, where refugees cross the Danube by ferry) and throughout the country, providing them food, shelter, clothing, medicines, first necessity products, transportation (from the border to the airport). We do our best with what we have in the current circumstances.

Alexandra Cornea: I would like to advise our colleagues from Western Europe to be ready to manage the enrolling of Ukrainian kids in schools together with their respective administration. They are likely to experience similar issues as we. It is obvious that this conflict will not be quickly resolved and it will have a long-term impact. That is why it is crucial to create a mechanism for identifying children and then assessing their skills and enrolling them in schools and universities as soon as possible.

The unions have done everything they can to help, but it is clear that we are beginning to face structural problems that are no longer relevant to emergency aid (such as food, beds, blankets, medicines, etc.). The education system has to take over and integrate a large number of children and students. During this period, it is crucial for unions to have a dialogue with the Ministry of Education and to find the legal and financial solutions that will allow solving the problems that I already mentioned earlier regarding the inclusion of refugee children in education. So, any practices in this regard created by our colleagues in other education trade unions that have proven effective can be useful for us (e.g. an ETUCE database or dedicated section on the ETUCE website). ETUCE and other colleagues from member organisations can also help by providing us with trainers or course methodology so that we can prepare Romanian teachers to work with refugee children.