I thank the honourable members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Union Affairs for the opportunity to make this address on the current situation in regard to Moldova's response to help Ukrainian refugees. I am especially honoured to be in this legislative body today as my people and country celebrate national state flag day today. Our flag is a major official symbol of our independence and sovereignty.
I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for taking the initiative to discuss, in the committee’s sessions on March 15 and today, these extremely important issues for my country and also for organising the visit of a cross-party delegation of the committee to Moldova to show solidarity with us and find out how the situation has evolved in my country and what more can be done to support us.
I also express our most sincere appreciation to the leadership of Ireland for the involvement and the assistance announced for Moldova in managing the flow of Ukrainian refugees by relocating 500 refugees from the Republic of Moldova to Ireland and for targeting €1 million for the Republic of Moldova out of the assistance allocated by the Irish Government for the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. In addition, I thank the Irish people, including members of the Moldovan diaspora, for collecting and sending humanitarian aid to my country. Our gratitude also goes to the RTÉ television news crew and The Irish Times newspaper leadership for providing to Irish society comprehensive, on-the-spot information about Moldova’s response to refugee flow.
Unfortunately, as we meet today, further tragedy is taking place in Ukraine and this tragedy is difficult to put into words. The world has recently witnessed even more shocking atrocities committed against civilians in Ukraine.
It is hard to believe that all of these crimes are happening in the 21st century, just at our border, in our neighbour and friend Ukraine. Meanwhile, some dangerous incidents and attempts to destabilise the situation in the Transnistrian region were registered recently. These pose high security risks for my country.
Let me reiterate that our country's position on the war in Ukraine is clear, firm and leaves no room for interpretation. The Republic of Moldova strongly condemns the war of Russia against Ukraine and demanded from the first day of military aggression that this war has be stopped. My country has voted in favour of diplomatic statements condemning the war waged by the Russian Federation against Ukraine and co-authored resolutions adopted at the UN.
The Government of the Republic of Moldova has provided to Ukraine humanitarian aid worth 24 million lei in two instalments. These are in Odessa, which is near my country, and in Vinnytsia on the other side. It is ready to help our neighbours more. Millions of people have been forced to flee their homes in Ukraine because of the war. At our meeting on 15 March, I briefed the esteemed members of the committee on our actions. I stated the Republic of Moldova had firmly demonstrated its commitment and engagement in ensuring international protection for those seeking refuge in Moldova. The government has taken co-ordinated action to manage transit and refugee flows from Ukraine. State institutions, tens of thousands of people, volunteers, police officers, public servants, medical doctors, mayors, executives and ordinary citizens all mobilised to help.
Since the onset of the conflict, more than 425,000 refugees have crossed into Moldova. Some have been assisted to travel onwards to other countries, including through pledges made by EU countries to receive refugees from Moldova in an effort to share responsibility and reduce pressure on neighbouring countries. Ireland is included in this. The Republic of Moldova continues to host more than 95,000 refugees. Of these, 91,000 are Ukrainian and we also have other nationalities. With the inter-agency support of international organisations present in Moldova, a response mechanism is being implemented to assist Ukrainian refugees. The mechanism includes measures on protection, accommodation, transportation, education, health and cash-based interventions for refugees. It is important to highlight that cash enrolment in Moldova has been growing rapidly since the programme was launched at the end of March. The figures for cash enrolment vary from country to country. They are not as big or as high in Moldova as elsewhere but the mechanism exists. The goal is to provide cash for approximately 150,000 refugees as well as for Moldovan host families who have opened their homes to refugees fleeing Ukraine.
Many high-level dignitaries of international organisations and our partner countries who visited Moldova have praised the authorities for the robust emergency response at our borders and within the country. They expressed their appreciation for the remarkable solidarity in this regard. At the same time, I am obliged to highlight that this figure of 95,000 refugees is far too large for us and we do not know what to expect with developments near Odessa. Members can probably easily understand this because they can compare it with the number of refugees in Ireland. The number in Moldova is four times bigger. The influx of refugees is placing enormous pressure on my country. Given the scale of this crisis, we need additional support from the international community to be able to provide appropriate assistance and keep the country stable. It is important for all of Europe to have a stable Moldova.
I will name a few urgent needs. We need to strengthen existing national systems to enable them to respond efficiently. For example, 50,000 children have been enrolled in schools so the education system needs support. The health system, the police and many other parts of our national system are also involved in the process. We need to continue relocation of the refugees Up to 19 April, more than 1,000 had been relocated to countries, including Lithuania, Austria, Germany and Latvia. I have requested a meeting with the leadership of the Department of Justice. I have not yet received a reply but I hope it is coming. I want to discuss with it Ireland’s refugee relocation mechanism, which is the responsibility of that Department. I know from being here that when Ireland does something it does so nicely and efficiently. This is probably why it took a bit of time to put the mechanism in place. I am quite sure it will be operational very soon.
We are asking our partners for direct financial assistance. We thank Ireland for helping us in this regard. Generally speaking, I want the committee to understand what we mean by this. We were confronted with a situation whereby big sums of money were announced. Some people were asking the authorities for this money. Sometimes international special mechanisms are very slow. This is why those who assisted us bilaterally were of great help. Everything was very pressing and money did not arrive. Every situation and system response to the conflict is different. Some international organisations are more used to providing tents. In our case, refugees were hosted in homes. This is why another type of response, such as cash interventions for host families and refugees themselves, is necessary. We are working on this and we are grateful the organisations are flexible and are adjusting their activities.
Fortunately, during this difficult time, Moldova has not been left alone and receives assistance in many ways. I mention one such initiative, the support conference for Moldova held in Berlin on 5 April. It was organised by the German Federal Foreign Office and co-hosted by the German, France and Romanian foreign ministers. We thank you for that. That conference was aimed at mobilising immediate international support for our country but it went beyond that. It was aimed at helping us with those other challenges Moldova faces right now relating to the war in Ukraine, which is a conflict at our border. In this context, we also express our appreciation to the Irish authorities for the assistance and support provided to Moldova within this initiative. Ireland participated and we are grateful.
It is clear the war has not only devastated Ukraine but also deeply affected Moldova, with a serious impact on people's lives. It has raised prices for food, fuel and energy. We are also facing the disrupted imports and exports from the eastern markets. That is why we are now looking for some quick solutions to open other markets for our products that we used to export through Ukraine to other parts of the world. In our assessment, we will feel the consequences of the war for a long time. Therefore, we need the support of our partners to strengthen our resilience.
Despite all difficulties and crises, we continue consistently to implement the government’s reform programme with the aim to succeed in building a competitive and resilient country that values its people and invests in them. Allow me to underline Moldova has applied to join the European Union during this difficult time, willing to confirm it wants to be part of the free world, values democracy and believes that in the family of the European Union it can ensure freedom, security and well-being for its citizens. The decision of the Republic of Moldova to apply for European Union membership has been taken in exceptional circumstances, as I have highlighted, but this step fully corresponds with its long-standing European aspirations and strategic European choice that members know about. Within Moldovan society there is a strong sense of expectation and renewed hope linked with the possibility of obtaining EU candidate status. In this context, we are grateful to the EU member states, including Ireland, for their firm and vocal support of our European aspirations and perspective.
In the context of EU work on the assessment of Moldova’s application for membership, as a first step at this important stage, on 22 April, Moldovan President Maia Sandu and Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilia handed over the completed EU questionnaire to the head of the EU delegation to the Republic of Moldova. The questionnaire was completed in just 11 days. This speed clearly shows the determination of the president, government and the whole Moldovan people to do the utmost to bring our country to the European family as quickly as possible. The Republic of Moldova hopes that the European Commission will recommend and that the June European Council set to be held on 23 and 24 June will take a unanimous positive decision to grant Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia candidate status or potential candidate status. In this context, we are counting primarily on Ireland's support to approve granting EU candidate status to Moldova.
We are fully aware, as I said previously, that the accession procedure is long and complex and we are willing to embark on this path. What we need now is a political decision that will be guiding the country for years ahead. We need a clear target and strong political message to mobilise everyone, including society, the business community and authorities around the European integration process. As many members shared with us in the last session, it happened with Ireland as well, at a due time. From this perspective, please allow me to convey to the committee that my government would greatly appreciate Ireland’s further support in managing the refugee flow that is the main topic of today's discussion and also for Moldova’s advancement of the co-operation process with European Union.