During the two-day trip, Bloom visited a UNICEF-supported “Blue Dot” space in Palanca, south-west Moldova, where women and children stop for rest and support as they cross the border from Ukraine in search of safety.
“I met one mother as she arrived at the border crossing with her three young children. She told me they had fled Ukraine last night after their neighbor’s house was bombed and they were too scared to stay,” said Bloom. “It was heartbreaking to see this family and so many others stream through the border after long journeys, with only a few belongings, and not knowing where their journey will end.”
UNICEF and UNHCR, in partnership with governments and civil society organizations, have set up three “Blue Dots” in Moldova on key refugee routes. The one-stop safe spaces provide information to traveling families, help to identify unaccompanied and separated children and ensure their protection from exploitation, and are a hub for essential services.
Since the start of the war on 24th February, more than 1.8 million children have fled Ukraine, with tens of thousands crossing into Moldova. Many refugees continue their journey to other countries, while almost 100,000 – half of them children – have stayed in Moldova with host families, volunteers or at government-run refugee centers.
“The urgent and very real threat to Ukraine’s child refugees is growing every day. Children traveling on their own are especially vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation as they make long and arduous journeys,” said UNICEF Representative in Moldova Maha Damaj. “UNICEF is working around the clock in Moldova to provide children and families with psychosocial care and protection services as they cross the border to find safety.”
During the trip, Bloom also met children and families at Moldexpo refugee center in Chișinău, one of more than 100 centers in Moldova where refugees can sleep, access medical and legal information, and have hot meals before continuing their journey.
At the center, Bloom met with a family of five who had fled Ukraine earlier this week in only the clothes they wore and a small amount of money. After arriving in Moldova and spending five nights at Moldexpo, a local family had offered to host them until they completed paperwork to move on.
“Many families and children I spoke with have not only left their homes but also their school, friends, family members and almost everything they own. As a father, I can’t imagine the upset and confusion they must feel,” added Bloom, who also visited eastern Ukraine with UNICEF in 2016. “The Blue Dots set up by UNICEF on the borders are a vital first stop for mothers desperately looking for some respite, and a safe place for children to play.”
UNICEF recently warned of the heightened risk of trafficking and exploitation as millions of children flee the war, and countless others are displaced by violence inside Ukraine. In response, UNICEF and partners are scaling up “Blue Dots” in refugee hosting countries, including Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, and calling on governments in the region to put measures in place to keep children safe. This includes strengthening child protection screenings at border crossings.