The Malta Independent 18 June 2024, Tuesday
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PKF helps Ukraine refugees settling in hotels

George M Mangion Tuesday, 8 March 2022, 13:17 Last update: about 3 years ago

It is a surreal feeling for most Europeans that after two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, and fewer restrictions, many hoped that life might gradually be returning to normality. That thread of hope was snapped when Russian troops attacked Ukraine, sparking fears of a global conflict with overtones of nuclear strife.

Another major source of worry for economists is the spike in oil prices, which has been a key driver of inflation this year owing to narrow supplies and soaring demand. This inflation malady is now being amplified by the conflict in Europe. Only, this week, Brent at one point hit $119.84 a barrel for the first time since early 2012.

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Back home, many have relatives or friends with Ukraine connections and the general feeling is of a tense feeling when they watch in horror the daily atrocities of this unprovoked Russian invasion. On Wednesday, the European Commission said it was proposing to activate a temporary directive that would allow people fleeing the war to get a temporary residence and work permit in the EU.

Pain, sadness and confusion have swept across social media, with people expressing shock and frustration at the unfolding crisis and mounting casualties. Many feel powerless to help. PKFMalta, in conjunction with other European offices, is gearing its members to assist in providing free hotel accommodation to refugees in European hotels. More than a million people fled the country, mostly women, often with their children, occasionally also with grandparents.

They are traumatised, they are tired, they fear for family members left behind including men (of fighting age) who took up arms against this Russian aggression. Refugees feel helpless and are hoping that others help them to settle away from the war zone.

The UN Refugee Agency has projected that more than four million Ukrainian refugees may eventually need protection and assistance, while the European Union's crisis management commissioner has said the figure could reach seven million. PKF, with offices in Europe, which work in hospitality consulting are gearing themselves to find free accommodation in hotels and other suitable shelters. A scheme to locate free accommodation in Budapest hotels is underway and one hopes that other initiatives in Poland, Moldavia, Slovakia and the Baltic states will follow.

Obviously, this sad war has elevated mental problems in an unprecedented way such that Lynn Sammut, manager of psychological support services at the Richmond Foundation, said that the OLLI chat started receiving requests for support from people in Ukraine. OLLI is a free, 24/7 emotional support chat service that affords users full anonymity. She said that they were also receiving requests for support from Ukrainians in Malta who are worried about their loved ones in Ukraine. Furthermore, the Foundation is also monitoring social media and noticing increases in anxiety levels among Maltese who are uncertain about the local repercussions of the war.

Ideally, in Malta all workers are comforted by a statement issued by employers which reads: "We're conscious of the fact that this tragedy might be impacting people in different ways throughout our company and we want you to know that it's OK to talk about this." Ultimately, this creates a space for conversation and employees can feel comfortable voicing their concerns, especially if they are personally affected by the crisis, so that the doors are opened for action such as forming a team to collect used clothes, tinned food and raising money to distribute to overseas charities.

One important advice to employees is to avoid a "doom scroll" effect arising out of a fixation on monitoring news of an ongoing crisis. An antidote is essentially a coping mechanism where staff tries to gain control over a situation by getting as much information as they can. Experts warn us that "doom scrolling" can be especially draining when people can't channel the information into direct action.

In brief what can employers do to assist workers at risk of mental illness due to the pressures of work combined with the vagaries of a Ukraine tragedy and the prevailing messages sent by local political candidates at the hustings of a snap election? Certainly, a temporary blockage of the news about the Russian aggression is hard to justify but only thus can the smoothing of the trauma impacting us, prevail.

One cannot omit to mention that locals who have experienced prior trauma are more likely to experience severe anxiety or distress. It goes without saying that productivity in Malta will suffer as workers feel distressed watching daily TV broadcasts of the war in Ukraine combined with a conflicting barrage of local accusations at the hustings by party media about alleged corruption, sleaze and cronyism. These intense political rivalries started raiding the airwaves as soon as the election was called. Inevitably, this has put many voters on edge.

As a small neutral island, we feel helpless to give assistance and to mediate in reducing the suffering of thousands fleeing the Russian invasion while untrained civilians are forced to take to arms. Immediately, sanctions were introduced and large oil companies like BP severed their investment holdings with Gazprom while globally cancelling all sports events planned in Russia. The Maltese government was at first going to continue with the passport scheme but under scrutiny from the EU Parliament blocked the issue of golden passports for Russia and Belarus applicants. Be that as it may, life in Malta goes on and one has to grin and bear it.

The source and severity of reactions will differ, but as principals in PKFMalta, we are keen to show care and concern for our staff. A text book approach would suggest these steps to support employees by reacting to staff workers experiencing real challenges by showing compassion. Create a psychologically safe environment for staff to discuss what they're experiencing. Encourage workplace conversations about real-world issues affecting employees to strengthen your company's culture and help workers feel supported. As always, set clear ground rules for civil discourse at work. Use check-ins and conversations that may arise about the conflict as opportunities to share your firm's mental health benefits.

In conclusion, one hopes that the second round of talks at Belarus by the two sides will fire a flicker of hope that the 150,000 invading Russian/Belarus troops return home. Really and truly, it has been heartening to see so many global political leaders adopting a sense of urgency and taking decisions to try and alleviate the plight of brave Ukrainians.

George M. Mangion is a partner in PKF, an audit and business advisory firm

 


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