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EXPLAINER: What is the US doing to help Ukrainian refugees?

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Refugees, mostly women with children, rest in a tent after arriving at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland, on Sunday March 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has dropped it largest mass migration in Europe for decadeswith more than 1.5 million people crossing from Ukraine to neighboring countries – “the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II,” according to the head of the UN Refugee Agency tweeted on Sunday. Almost all refugees have gone to other European countries, where they have usually been warmly received. However, some may need to be permanently relocated to the United States if they are unable to return to Ukraine.

A look at the situation:

WHAT HAS THE US DONE SO FAR TO HELP REFUGEES?

The US has provided $54 million in food and other aid to people in Ukraine and has pledged to send more, according to Samantha Power, the organization’s director US Agency for International Development. This help is vital as conditions in Ukraine are dire and continue to deteriorate. Food is in short supply as millions of internally displaced people try to escape Russian onslaught.

On Thursday, the Biden administration announced an offer temporary protective status for Ukrainians already in the United States. Members of Congress and supporters welcomed the announcement, but the impact has been modest. The Department of Homeland Security estimates about 75,000 people are eligible for the program and it is only valid for 18 months if not renewed. Additionally, the program leaves people in immigration limbo, as beneficiaries may not necessarily convert their status to permanent legal residency or U.S. citizenship.

WILL THE US ACCEPT UKRAINIAN REFUGEES FOR RECOVERY?

It could. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US would accept Ukrainian refugees. But the administration says most refugees appear to want to stay in Europe, at least for the time being. Many have families there, can work and then return home if that is possible at some point.

Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday: “The United States is committed to doing everything in its power to primarily assist those countries that bear the immediate burden of hosting Ukrainians. And then, of course, when people apply for refugee status in the United States, we’ll look at that and I’m sure we’ll act on it.”

The government had previously announced that it would take in up to 125,000 refugees in the 2022 budget year. That annual cap had been lowered to a record low of 15,000 under President Donald Trump. When setting the annual target for refugees, the Biden administration provided 10,000 refugee visas for people from Europe, but it could expand that number to include more Ukrainians if needed. The White House has said it will work with the United Nations and European countries to determine whether people who have fled Europe need to be permanently resettled in the US or elsewhere.

The 125,000 does not include the 76,000 Afghans who came to the United States after the American withdrawal from Afghanistan in August.

One thing the US could do immediately to help the Ukrainians would be to expedite the processing of several thousand members of religious minorities, including Jews and Evangelical Christians who have families in the United States and have already applied, among the so-called Lautenberg to come program.

CAN THE US REFUGEE SYSTEM ACCEPT A NEW WAVE OF REFUGEES?

Yes, although it won’t be easy, say refugee resettlement experts.

The Trump administration’s cuts to the refugee program have forced resettlement agencies to lay off staff and close offices. They have struggled for months to help the tens of thousands of Afghan refugees who came after their country fell to the Taliban, and a complex problem has been compounded by high housing costs and the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the difficulties, the US could handle the arrival of more refugees, says Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, one of the country’s nine resettlement agencies.

“There’s so much interest in helping these people that the resources would be there, the volunteers would be there,” Hetfield said. “It would be a challenge because we are all too skinny. But we would definitely make it.”

https://www.wavy.com/news/world/explainer-what-is-the-us-doing-to-help-ukraine-refugees/ EXPLAINER: What is the US doing to help Ukrainian refugees?

Russell Falcon

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