Round table – Strengthening the protection of children and victims of gender-based violence, in the context of refugee flows in Romania

On 22 November 2023, the Council of Europe and UNHCR, UN Refugee Agency in Romania organized in Bucharest the Roundtable “Strengthening the protection of children and survivors of gender-based violence, in the context of refugee flows in Romania”. 

The Roundtable is a follow-up to the fact-finding mission to Romania of the Council of Europe’s Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees (SRSG), Leyla Kayacik, that took place in December 2022. 

The report issued after the fact-finding mission identified several actions to be taken within the framework of the Action Plan on Protecting Vulnerable Persons in the context of Migration and Asylum in Europe (2021-2025), and in close cooperation with international organizations which could provide know-how and tailor-made expertise to competent entities.  The discussions during the event built up upon the recommendations and developments since Dec 2022.  

The event opened with introductory remarks by Mr. Mihai Cătălin Necula, Police Principal Questor, State Secretary for Internal Relations and European Affairs, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Dr. Raed Arafat, State Secretary, Chief of the Department for Emergency Situations, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Mr. Eleodor Pirvu, Chief Police Commissioner, Deputy General Inspector, General Inspectorate for Immigration, Ministry of Internal Affairs. 

The introductory panel concluded with interventions by Ms. Leyla Kayacik, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe on Migration and Refugees and Mr. Pablo Zapata, UNHCR Representative in Romania.  

„Given the current challenges faced by our member states, it is crucial that international organizations join forces in the SRSG to support the relevant authorities in strengthening the protection of people in vulnerable situations, especially children and victims of gender-based violence,” Ms Leyla Kayacik said. 

Mr Pablo Zapata underlined that “As we deepen our support to Romania for the inclusion of refugees in the national systems, it is important to take stock of what we have collectively done during the emergency to reinforce national protection mechanisms. Resilient systems able to protect refugee children and GBV survivors in times of crisis and of uncertainty, remain fundamental to uphold human dignity and solidarity. We thank Romania for its unwavering commitment. 

The speakers presented the main findings included in the report of the fact-finding mission and expressed commitment to further strengthening the system in place for persons in vulnerable situations. 

The event continued with the presentation of a Case Law of the European Court of Human Rights with a particular focus on vulnerability and children given by Valentin Nicolescu, Lawyer from the Registry of the European Court of Human Rights, followed by questions and answers.  

The Protection of Refugee Children panel discussion started with a presentation of the national system in law and practice and the challenges encountered made by Mr. Nicolae Gabriel Gorunescu, Undersecretary of State and Vice President, National Authority for the Protection of the Rights of the Child and Adoption. Mr Pedro Munoz Alonso, Community-Based Protection Officer, UNHCR Romania and Ms. Zaruhi Gasparyan, Head of Co-operation Unit, Children’s Rights Division, Conseil de l’Europe introduced the UNHCR and UN standards on the protection of unaccompanied and separated displaced children and, the CoE standards relevant to the protection of refugee children – focus on reception and effective guardianship, respectively. 

The discussion continued with an overview of the challenges and good practices related to the Romanian legal framework and the practical approach to unaccompanied children (asylum seekers, beneficiaries of international protection and temporary protection) presented by Ms. Daniela Zaharia Manescu, Legal Consultant in Child Protection.   

The afternoon panel dedicated to Prevention and Protection of Victims of Gender-Based Violence in Refugee Context, started with a presentation of the national system in law and practice, by Ms. Carmen Nicolescu, Senior Advisor, National Agency for Equal Opportunities Between Men and Women (ANES). Ms. Sabina Wittman and Marta Becerra, Violence against Women Division, Secretariat of the Istanbul Convention monitoring mechanism, Council of Europe discussed about the Istanbul Convention and its implementation in Romania while and issues related to countering cyberviolence online were presented by Mr. Alexander Seger, Head of the Cybercrime division, Head of the Cybercrime Programme Office of the Council of Europe in Bucharest. 

The panel discussion continued with a presentation of the UNHCR role in preventing, mitigating and responding to gender-based violence in Romania by Ms. Konstantina Loupeidou, Inter-Agency Coordination Officer – PSEA, UNHCR Romania, followed by the session: “From vulnerability to resilience” on ways to address gender-based violence among refugees, by Ms. Cristina Horia, President of Sensiblu Foundation. 

Wrapping up the discussions during the day, Mr Pablo Zapata presented the main take-aways of the very informative and rich exchanges during the day, highlighting the resilience of the Romanian national system vis-a-vis the current refugee response and laying the ground for further discussions on how the system can continue enduring future challenges, which will build on updated reflections on strengthening a route-based approach to ensure meaningful protection for all persons on the move.  

 The press release is available in Romanian here.