Supporters want details on Biden’s plan to resettle Ukrainian refugees

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When President Joe Biden announced last week that the United States would accept up to 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine, Nadia Kasvin began receiving inquiries from local Ukrainian residents on how to bring in members of their families who were in danger.

But Kasvin, director of a local resettlement agency called US Together, had no answers for them.

For the millions who have now fled their homes in Ukraine because of the Russian invasion, Biden’s March 24 announcement came as a welcome promise. Saying it is an “international responsibility” to help displaced Ukrainians, the president also pledged $1 billion in humanitarian aid to those affected by the war.

However, the administration has yet to provide logistical details on how to relocate and resettle these Ukrainian refugees. Kasvin said his organization has not received any information about what the program will look like, who will be eligible to apply, or when those refugees will start coming to the United States.

“I wish there were details first and then the announcement,” she said. “Because now everyone has heard this, and you can’t imagine how many phone calls, messages and emails I’ve received from our Ukrainian families in Columbus asking me what to do. And I don’t have nothing to say to them.

Read more: Russian invasion of Ukraine leaves Columbus-area student worried for family’s safety

What do we know about displaced Ukrainians?

Since the start of the war in Ukraine on February 24, more than 10 million people – almost a quarter of the country’s total population – have been forced from their homes, according to a March statement from the United Nations High Commissioner. for Refugees (UNHCR). .

More than 6.5 million people are internally displaced, while around 3.7 million have sought refuge in another country, such as Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. Poland alone has taken in more than 2 million Ukrainians since the start of the conflict, UNHCR reported.

The United States, by contrast, accepted only about 500 Ukrainian refugees from the start of the year – when Russia was building up its military presence in the region – until the first half of March, CNN reported on the State Department database. .

Most Ukrainians who had previously come to the United States as refugees did so under a little-known Cold War-era program called the Lautenberg Amendment, which allows certain religious minorities to the former Soviet Union to seek refuge in America.

More than 14,000 Ukrainian nationals have been resettled to the United States under the Lautenberg Amendment over the past five fiscal years, according to statistics provided by the State Department. A few hundred of them ended up in Columbus, according to local resettlement agencies.

The current time frame for Lautenberg applications, from submission to approval, is two to three years, and many Ukrainian families who are expected to come to Columbus have received few updates regarding their applications in recent months, previously reported. reported the Dispatch.

Biden’s latest announcement raises hopes that there will be a faster and more inclusive path than Lautenberg for Ukrainians to get to America. The United States is considering a full range of options – including the regular refugee admissions program, nonimmigrant visas, parole and other means. But it’s unclear when the plan will materialize.

The State Department has told resettlement agencies not to anticipate a significant increase in near-term admissions outside of a slight increase in arrivals from Lautenberg, according to information shared by Angie Plummer, the agency’s executive director. resettlement from Columbus Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS).

Read more: Columbus lawyer urges Biden to quickly relocate eligible Ukrainian refugees

Some advocates skeptical of Biden’s plan

The lack of a plan or timeline isn’t the only reason some supporters remain skeptical of Biden’s announcement. The administration also failed to deliver on a number of its other humanitarian promises, they said.

For example, in September 2021, Biden raised the national refugee cap to 125,000 for fiscal year 2022 — the highest the country has seen since the 1990s. But fewer than 8,000 refugees ended up making it to America as of during the first half of the fiscal year, according to data released by the State Department.

And while 76,000 Afghan nationals were brought to America immediately following the chaotic military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US government has largely abandoned the program since then. In January, more than 40,000 Afghans reportedly applied for temporary admission to the country, but only about 160 were approved, US Citizenship and Immigration Services told Al Jazeera.

“Unfortunately, refugee resettlement continues at a glacial pace, and significant investment and innovation is needed to ensure that the Biden administration’s intentions can materialize,” said Sunil Varghese, director of policy at an agency. New York-based nonprofit called the International Refugee Assistance Project. in a recent statement.

Kasvin, who worked with about 200 Afghan evacuees who arrived in Columbus for temporary relief, said she hoped incoming Ukrainian refugees would be granted permanent immigration status.

“I really don’t want another large group of people with temporary status because the resources are already stretched to help people adjust their status,” she said. “Adjusting someone’s status is a long and very complex process.”

Read more: 5 global conflicts besides the war in Ukraine you should pay attention to

Yilun Cheng is a Report for America staff member and covers immigration issues for the Dispatch. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps him keep writing stories like this. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation at https://bit.ly/3fNsGaZ.

[email protected]

@ChengYilun

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