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YMCA leadership witnesses refugee support programmes on Romania/Ukraine border

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‘We are on our journey, building bridges of peace’, said World YMCA Secretary-General Carlos Sanvee at the start of a 2-day visit to witness the work of YMCA Romania in supporting refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.

Juan Simoes Iglesias, Secretary-General of YMCA Europe, and Alina Pop, Secretary-General of YMCA Romania, joined him in the town of Baia Mare in Maraumes County in north-western Romania, on Saturday 7 May.

Their day began at the wooden church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel in Surdesti village, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a symbol of resilience and rebirth in Romanian culture. ‘This is a cradle of spirituality, and a great start to our day to align body, mind, and spirit with the realities and beauties of these lands’, said Juan Simoes.

The team then crossed mountains and rivers and arrived in Sighet, the border town where, since 25 February, local NGOs including YMCA have set up tents and provided help for an estimated 50,000 refugees coming from Ukraine. The place was quieter on 7 May, with a few families crossing the border and receiving first line support. The border post is run by UNICEF’s ‘Blue Dot’ programme.

The standards and procedures to welcome refugee families have been perfected over the past few months. Nowadays, everyone coming through the ‘Blue Dot’ tent will benefit from a hot meal, first aid and psycho-social services, and the possibility of free accommodation in the local centres which are registered in the national database. Everyone going through the registration system also benefits from free transportation to every European capital city. The travel arrangements and routes are centralized and linked to the European system, ensuring transparency and trust.

The YMCA plays an important role in offering support in the registration process, volunteering in 8-hour shifts to ensure that every mother and child are safe, and that they benefit from the best treatment and care. The YMCA delegation met local YMCA volunteers and listened to the stories of the families coming over from Ukraine.

The three YMCA leaders then walked onto the ‘Bridge of Peace’ on the Tisa River which separates the two countries.

‘The work that is done by the YMCA here, today, is meaningful for our mission as one united organisation, as this is the “bridge” that unites Europe, and makes us all stronger. Together we shall overcome!’ – a strong statement by Juan.

‘I felt a sense of responsibility, coming here today, representing hundreds of YMCAs around the world. We know that the value of the work that has been done by YMCAs in every corner is motivating us to move forward, to ensure that humanity and peace will prevail’ – a powerful vision by Carlos reflecting the unity of the YMCA Movement.

‘We are honoured and would like to thank all YMCAs for their support. Together we have changed the lives of so many, we have tried to ensure that peace will prevail. Today we are stronger together, and on this bridge, we pledge that together we care!’ – the words of Alina.

The three leaders pledged that they will stand together, and support those in need. At that moment, anti-aircraft sirens went off on the Ukrainian side of the border: the proximity of the war, and the importance of the support YMCA and others are giving, was again brought into sharp relief.

The afternoon of Saturday 7 May was spent at the ‘ROUA’ (Romania-Ukraine) Community Centre in Baia Mare, which offers day-care activities for refugee children, and counselling for refugee parents. The Centre is a central point for the newly formed refugee community from Ukraine in Baia Mare, and is staffed by 7 local charities, including YMCA and Action Aid.