Comment by Ms. Seda Kuzucu, UNHCR Representative in Bulgaria
In one week, we will mark a devastating milestone: One year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine which triggered the biggest and fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War.
The devastation and destruction inside Ukraine have been staggering, uprooting a third of the population. The war shows no signs of abating, and sadly the worst appears far from over.
But we will also mark one year of incredible solidarity and support to millions of refugees who have fled since 24 February 2022.
In Bulgaria, people and government have responded with immense generosity to receive and help tens of thousands of Ukrainians in need. This has been a remarkable show of solidarity with the plight of refugees. Bulgaria was also among the first countries in Europe to provide Temporary Protection to refugees from Ukraine, crucial for their access to rights and services.
Nearly 1.1 million Ukrainian refugees have entered Bulgaria since 24 February 2022 according to official data from the State Agency for Refugees and Chief Directorate Border Police. Bulgaria has registered more than 151,000 refugees from Ukraine for Temporary Protection and some 50,000 have remained in the country.
As the war continues, do does the need for strong support to refugees. Ukrainians have many ties to Bulgaria, and they have arrived in the country with a wealth of skills, and experience, and a willingness to contribute to their host communities. It is our duty to support them to be resilient and to access livelihoods while they await to return home, when they can in safety and dignity.
Yesterday in Sofia, we joined hands with 17 partners – UN and humanitarian organizations – to launch the Bulgaria chapter of the 2023 Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRP). We appeal for US$ 43.4 million to assist Bulgaria’s government in providing vital support for up to 200,000 refugees from Ukraine in the country.
We will work jointly and through a coordinated response on the challenges affecting refugees fleeing Ukraine and in need of international protection, as well as affected host communities. A significant emphasis of the inter-agency response in Bulgaria is focused on supporting the Government in providing key protection services, livelihoods support and inclusion opportunities. With the possibility of an increase in refugee numbers in 2023, the authorities’ response efforts will be complemented by coordinated interventions of UN agencies, national NGOs, civil society actors, community-based and faith-based organizations, and the International Federation of the Red Cross in a coherent and consistent manner.
The RRP partners in Bulgaria are UN Agencies: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), International Organization for Migration (IOM), World Health Organization (WHO); National NGOs: Aid for Ukraine, Ak-Nordost, Association Energy, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Dignita, Foundation for Access to Rights, Pituary Foundation, Reachout Foundation, Situation Centre Open Doors, Ukraine Support and Renovation Foundation, Za Dobroto Foundation; IFRC & Red Cross/ Crescent Societies: Bulgarian Red Cross, Faith-based Organizations, Caritas Bulgaria, Regional Organizations, International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD).
Bulgaria’s RRP chapter is unique from other countries in the region, as the majority of responders are national NGOs and community-based organizations – showing strong civil society response within the country, including the partnerships with municipalities and the strong network of volunteers from the host community who were the first to respond.
We need the donor community and private sector to continue to complement this whole-of-society approach, especially as socio-economic inclusion and integration of refugees become more important and only possible through diverse partnerships and funding for mid and longer-term sustainable support.
Together, we can continue building and improving the refugee response on behalf of the people that we serve.
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