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How the US can step up its efforts to aid Europe’s refugee crisis

Associated Press/Visar Kryeziu

With Europe facing its worst refugee crisis since World War II as Ukrainians flee Russia’s assault, the United States should take steps both immediately and in the coming months to ease the crisis.  

They include funding for Ukraine and for public and private relief agencies to address refugee needs, immigration adjustments to make it easier for Ukrainian refugees to come to and settle in the United States and resources to help Ukrainians return home after the war and rebuild their lives.  

Europe is facing its second refugee crisis in less than a decade. This one, however, is playing out much differently than the slower-moving crisis of 2015-16 — when nearly 5.2 million refugees and migrants, largely from Syria, the Middle East and North Africa, reached Europe to escape war and other turmoil.  

{mosads}In this crisis, more than 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees reached Europe in just 10 days, and that figure will likely rise to 4 to 5 million within a month. It is, said Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.” And, in this crisis, the largely white and orthodox Christian Ukrainians are receiving a far warmer welcome from European nations than did the refugees of much different backgrounds in 2015-16.  

The United States has faced its own refugee crisis, with a steady stream of Central and South American families and children seeking asylum and some 70,000 Afghans needing settlement since our withdrawal from their country last summer. Nevertheless, while Europe bears the brunt of Ukraine’s refugee crisis, the United States has more resources — in both money and the capacity to receive, house and provide for refugees — than any other country.  

What should we do?    

Short-term: The United States needs to support the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, an agency created to protect and assist refugees, and other relief agencies as they seek to help the Ukrainians fleeing or who have fled their country. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres announced a $1.7 billion appeal to help address the immediate needs of refugees and host countries, as well as displaced persons in Ukraine. While the United States and others have pledged a total of $1.5 billion, the need will grow as the crisis ensues and our nation must be prepared to provide more.  

President Biden has sent troops to Poland to help that nation prepare for and receive refugees. He also asked Congress for $10 billion to support Ukraine, including $4.25 billion for economic and humanitarian assistance for both Ukrainians who have stayed and those who have fled. Congress should provide the funding.  

The administration, however, could do more to ease U.S. immigration requirements for Ukrainians.  

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An estimated 34,000 Ukrainians in the United States have an unknown immigration status and, if undocumented, could face deportation. Another 27,000 have temporary visas which, if the visas lapse, would make them eligible for deportation as well. The administration announced that it is authorizing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for any Ukrainians in the United States, protecting them from deportation and providing work authorization for 18 months. Ukrainians in the United States as of March 1, whether they are in a legal status or undocumented, can apply for this protection within the registration period. 

TPS, however, does not enable those with it to convert to permanent legal residence or citizenship, and it does not confer the benefits and support of asylum or refugee status. Nor has the administration taken steps to ease visa requirements to allow fleeing Ukrainians to come to the United States. By providing expedited avenues for Ukrainians to join their families in the United States, the administration also could provide some relief for Europe.  

Medium-term: While no one knows how many Ukrainians will seek permanent resettlement in the United States — given that many hope to return home after the war ends — we have room in our refugee system for more Ukrainians. Under the government’s 125,000 refugee ceiling for fiscal year 2022 (which runs through September 30), 10,000 slots are reserved for European refugees and the administration could reserve additional slots if needed.  

{mossecondads}As of the end of February, the United States had admitted fewer than 7,000 refugees and resettled fewer than 700 Ukrainian refugees. While the nation’s nonprofit refugee resettlement agencies have been strained for several years, surviving severe Trump-era cuts and struggling to help the tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees who were brought to the United States last year, the agencies say they are ready to assist Ukrainians if the administration steps up its resettlement efforts.  

The administration also could offer humanitarian parole, which enables the government, in cases of significant public benefit or urgent humanitarian considerations, to grant admission on a case-by-case basis to those who otherwise would not receive it; thousands of Afghans received that status after their evacuation. Only certain types of humanitarian parole would enable a recipient to move to a more permanent status. As a temporary measure, however, it could provide relief to Ukrainians who might later seek to return home.     

The United States should play a bigger role in providing relief to refugees and helping them rebuild their lives.  

Theresa Cardinal Brown is managing director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. 

Tags Asylum seeker Biden Ukraine ad Forced migration Human rights abuses Joe Biden Population Refugee refugees Right of asylum United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

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