A working meeting initiated by Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova on March 14, 2022, which included representatives of the non-governmental sector, business organizations and Sofia Municipal Council, outlined concrete steps to improve the coordination of support measures to people fleeing the war in Ukraine.

“We have been working for many years for the integration of third-country nationals in the labor market in Sofia. What the people of Ukraine are going through right now is something none of us expected. The fact is that NGOs and citizens were the first to respond and offer their help and support. Sofia municipality is one of the first institutions that managed to quickly organize and coordinate support actions for the refugees from the war “, said Мayor Fandakova. Accommodation, free medical care in municipal hospitals, the provision of premises for non-governmental organizations to organize help centers, the supply of food and medicine are some of the measures that the municipality has taken so far. The efforts to secure more resources and humanitarian aid continue at full speed.

Sofia Municipality has already developed an information portal through which Ukrainian refugees can find all the necessary information in Bulgarian, English and Ukrainian – Moreover, The Municipal Privatization and Investment Agency SofiaInvest is developing an internet platform to connect employers and refugees from Ukraine looking for work, the mayor of Sofia said. Work is also underway to ensure children’s access to school. Svetlozar Andreev of the European Committee of the Regions said the European Union was expected to allocate between 10 billion and 20 billion euros to manage the crisis, with funds going to NGOs, local authorities and small and medium-sized enterprises. Refugees face several main problems in terms of finding a job – knowledge of Bulgarian, difficulties in opening bank accounts, real access to the health care system in Sofia, because general practitioners have their patient quotas full, said the CEO of Caritas – Sofia, Tsvetomir Dumanov. The UNHCR Office in Bulgaria stressed the importance of accurate and timely information in this situation and pledged to assist in disseminating materials to Ukrainian refugees in key locations in Sofia. UNHCR is one of the partner organizations, which together with the Bulgarian Red Cross provides services to refugees and migrants in the Office for Information and Services of Third-Country Nationals established by Sofia Development Association and Sofia Municipality. The Bureau is already offering information and consultations to Ukrainian citizens coming to Sofia. The Bureau opened in October 2021 and has so far provided consultations and information to more than 450 migrants.

The special focus of the meeting was on employment opportunities for third-country nationals. Discussions included employers’ associations, trade unions, small and medium-sized enterprises, Sofia Investment Agency; all of the organizations support the informal coalition of local stakeholders for the inclusion of third-country nationals in the labor market. The participants in the meeting expressed their commitment for further joint actions, both for the organization of emergency assistance to arriving refugees and for setting up functional institutional systems for long-term support in education, employment and health care.

The meeting is part of the activities of Sofia Development Association on the projects CONNECTION and UnionMigrantNet, which are co-funded by the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund.