Moldova is facing a refugee crisis and requires urgent financial aid as tens of thousands of people fleeing the Russian invasion cross its border from Ukraine, the country’s prime minister, Natalia Gavrilița, has said.
Gavrilița told Euronews on Monday that of the 250,000 Ukrainians that have crossed the border since the war began, 120,000 have remained in Moldova. Europe’s poorest country now has the largest proportion of refugees of any nation, she said, and is struggling to cope.
“Moldova is, of course, also the country with the most limited resources, and we definitely need financial assistance and humanitarian assistance in order to be able to support this flow of refugees,” she said, calling the situation “a massive humanitarian crisis.”
On March 3 Moldova’s president, Maia Sandu, formally announced that the country would request candidate status from the European Union, echoing requests by Georgia and Ukraine since the Russian invasion began ten days ago.
That request has raised questions about the future of Transnistria, a Russia-backed breakaway region that is not recognised by the international community and that Moldova considers an integral part of its territory. Russia has between 1,500 and 2000 soldiers in the territory, some of which are classified peace-keepers with an international mandate.
A day after Sandu made her announcement on EU membership, the authorities in Transnistria backed Russia’s war in Ukraine and said that it would cease talks with Moldova over resolving its status for as long as negotiations with the EU continued.
Gavrilița was unwilling to comment on whether the government in Chisinau was worried about Vladimir Putin’s forces attacking the country, calling the scenario “hypothetical”.
“We are currently seeing no danger or risks for spill-over into the Transnistria region,” she said.
As for Transnistria, she said that the government of Moldova’s stance remains the same.
“We have Russian troops stationed there. We have called for the withdrawal of troops consistently for the last 30 years. We currently do not see any risks or plans for engagement. But of course, the situation is uncertain and depends on evolution in the Ukraine,” she said.
On joining the EU, she said that Moldova understood that membership was “a long process of transformation.”
“At the same time, with the security of of this region, the offering of candidate status would be a very important signal to the people of the countries that submitted the request to join the European Union that they are welcomed in the free world,” she said.
“Of course, we are ready to do the homework that is necessary to achieve the standards to join the European Union.”
Asked whether the government would hold a referendum on joining Romania - as has been demanded by some Romanian parties - to join the EU, she said the option “had not been discussed.”