Viktoriya, a U.S. citizen originally from Ukraine, tells CNN that she’s agonizing over what she can do to help loved ones who are also in the immigration process but have now had to flee their homes following brutal Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s invasion. “Right now, they are in different places, which makes us scared,” she said in the report. “They don’t know what to do.”
More than two dozen Ukrainians who were set to arrive in the U.S. through the refugee system have also seen their flights canceled, said one major resettlement agency. Dmytro arrived to Michigan just a couple weeks ago, and told CNN that his brother was waiting for final approval. “He and his family are now among the scores of people desperately trying to flee.”
“Refugee resettlement organizations are racing to mobilize resources to neighboring countries to assist people fleeing Ukraine in what some advocates say could be the world’s largest refugee crisis since World War II,” CNN reported. To that point, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said Tuesday that around 660,000 Ukrainians had fled to neighboring countries. By the next day, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said that number was at 1 million.
Refugee advocates have in recent days urged the Biden administration to “lead by example,” and welcome displaced Ukrainians. They tell CNN that there are homes and sponsors here ready to welcome them (Americans across all political parties support extending temporary visas, per recent polling), but there’s “no way right now of connecting the dots.” U.S. forces were able to rapidly evacuate tens of thousands of Afghan refugees last summer, but that’s not an option available to Ukraine.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service president Krish O’Mara Vignarajah said late last month that the Biden administration “must rebuild and streamline the refugee program’s processing capacity to prepare for this new humanitarian emergency.” In light of the startling refugee numbers from the U.N.—and the dangers that would face anyone returning to Ukraine—she also continued to note actions that the Biden administration can take right now.
“It is imperative that the Biden administration heeds the call of advocates and lawmakers to designate Ukraine for Temporary Protected Status. Protecting Ukrainian families from deportation to an active warzone would be an important sign of solidarity and represents the clear moral course of action.” It’s an action that the administration can announce today—just this week, it announced deportation protections for Sudanese and South Sudanese immigrants already in the U.S., citing “violent turmoil, natural disaster, and a severe lack of access to humanitarian aid.”
The UNHCR spokesperson said that neighboring European nations have “commendably kept their borders open for refugees fleeing Ukraine,” but pointed to the racist treatment experienced by African students also trying to flee for their lives. “UNHCR urges governments to continue to maintain access to territory for all those fleeing: Ukrainians, and third country nationals living in Ukraine, who are now forced to escape the violence,” Mantoo said. “We stress that there must be no discrimination against any person or group.”
We must also do our part to fairly assist. “Just as Europe plans to activate a temporary protection directive, designating TPS is well within the Biden administration’s authority, and the atrocities of the Russian invasion demand it be implemented at once,” O’Mara Vignarajah continued.
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