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Romania's helping hand in terms of refugee crisis

A friend in need is a friend indeed, they say, and the Sovereign Order of Malta proves to be in the front line when it comes to support Romania in offering shelter to refugees. Jakob Kripp, the Ambassador of the Sovereign Order of Malta to Romania, talked to Alexandra Cioboata (Lopotaru) about the Order's intention to increase cooperation with Romania on social and humanitarian projects

2015-12-06 18:06:03 - From the Print Edition

In late September, the European Union interior ministers meeting in the Justice and Home Affairs Council approved a plan to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers over two years from the frontline member states of Italy and Greece to other member states, including Romania. Although the country voted against the decision to allocate refugees among the EU countries, along with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, the majority voted for the relocation mechanism and thus Romania was required to receive 6,351 refugees over the next two years.

The Sovereign Order of Malta, one of the oldest institutions of Western and Christian civilization and well-known for its commitment and devotion towards poor people, has a long-term experience in the migration area, running ten health centres in Lebanon and a maternity clinic in Palestine, offering humanitarian aid for refugees since the outbreak of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq four years ago. Moreover, 50 per cent of all refugees arriving in Germany last year (almost 50,000 people) were hosted by the Order. If worldwide the institution counts 13,500 members, 25,000 employees and 80,000 volunteers in 120 countries, in Romania the Order has 25 members, 70 employees and 1,700 volunteers in 17 branches across the country. In this context, Jakob Kripp, the Ambassador of the Sovereign Order of Malta to Romania, told The Diplomat - Bucharest that the institution is ready to help the country cope with the wave of refugees that will come within the next two years, through its Relief Organisation present in Romania since 1991.

"Romania and the Sovereign Order of Malta will strengthen their cooperation on social and humanitarian projects in Romania and in the Middle East," said Jakob Kripp, Ambassador of the Sovereign Order of Malta to Romania. "A very important activity of the Order is to take care of refugees all over the world. It already manages refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq and a lot of people are coming from there, so we know how to communicate with them and we know how to anticipate their needs. We can offer know-how, personnel and volunteers if it's suitable to any of our branches."

To stress even more the desire to help, the Grand Chancellor of the Sovereign Order of Malta, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, paid an official visit to Romania in late October, meeting with both the Prime Minister of Romania at that time, Victor Ponta, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Bogdan Aurescu. The officials expressed their common intention to renew the Cooperation Agreement of 2002 and to extend it to the whole range of social and humanitarian services offered by the Order of Malta through its Relief Organisation in Romania. Furthermore, according to a press release issued to The Diplomat, the Grand Chancellor noted during the visit that the Order could provide Romania with expertise in the field of refugees. "Building walls and fences is not a solution and was never successful, starting with the Great Wall of China," said Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager. "These push the issue back for a while, only to give birth to bigger issues in the process. We must understand that the flow of refugees will continue. We must focus on ways to cope with it, to integrate those who are coming. The Order is very involved in these measures."

Asked how many refugees the Order could take care of, Jakob Kripp confessed that it is hard to tell and that the figure must be carefully analysed and correlated with public institutions, infrastructure and financing - that will mostly come from EU. According to the decision adopted by the Council in late September, the member states participating in the mechanism will receive a lump sum of 6,000 Euro for each relocated person.

The helper needs to be helped

The diplomatic relations between the Order of Malta and Romania were resumed in 1991, after they were interrupted during the communist period. In the last 24 years, particularly by means of the Relief Organisation, the Order showed constant commitment to supporting dozens of social and medical assistance programmes addressing the elderly, people with disabilities, or underprivileged people, as well as through programmes supporting the Roma community in Romania. Among the most important programmes the Order has developed, one can include "Meals on Wheels", through which volunteers deliver food to the homes of the elderly and sick, "Educational support to children in our community", focused on Roma children and aiming to prevent school dropout, "Afterschool for Roma children", and first-aid courses.

Annually, around 4,000 people benefit from the Order's programmes, requiring around one million Euro of funding in order for them to be sustainable. The Order of Malta is making efforts to raise the money every year from sponsorship, especially from the businesses environment, but also from individuals. If in the past the money was coming exclusively from abroad, today two-thirds of the funds are coming from the local market.

For the future, Ambassador Kripp plans to make the institution better-known among the local markets and to increase the number of its branches to 22. "We have potential to grow, but our strength relies in people," he said. "We need more people in order to increase the number of beneficiaries and to open new subsidiaries. I think we will reach our targets, but only step by step," concludes the Ambassador.

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