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Ukrainians and advocates demand timeline and other details on welcoming refugees to US


Maryana Berezhnytska didn’t think she would ever see atrocities like those Russian troops allegedly committed against civilians during the war in Ukraine, where she lives with her 9- and 11-year-old daughters.

“I never thought there would be a war in our country and my children would live in fear,” she said, speaking from Lviv last week via Facebook Messenger.

Berezhnytska and her children are afraid to go out during the day, and even more so at night, tortured by the sound of sirens.

“There is no normal life for them. Like all children in our country,” she said. “All the time we are scared.”

Berezhnytska would like to flee Ukraine, joining the more than 4.3 million people who have already left since Russia invaded on February 24. Ideally, she and her daughters would move to New York, where her mother lives.

Both were thrilled when President Joe Biden announced plans to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing the country to the United States.

But their initial enthusiasm faded as the announcement took a while to materialize.

“I was very happy when I heard about the opportunity to go to my mother’s house, but it turned out to be unrealistic for a while,” she said. “I don’t know how long to wait, but I’m afraid it’s too late.”

Advocacy groups and refugee resettlement agencies said key details were still missing on how and when the US would allow more Ukrainians into the country, including reuniting with families living in the United States.

The Biden administration said in late March that Ukrainians and others would be allowed to enter the United States through various avenues, including the U.S. refugee admissions program, nonimmigrant and immigrant visas, and other means. . Emphasis will also be placed on welcoming Ukrainians who have family members in the United States, according to the administration. Additional details are expected in the coming weeks.

“It’s not something Poland or Romania or Germany should be doing alone,” Biden said in Brussels last month. “It’s an international responsibility.”

NBC News reported last month that it was unclear what authority Biden would use to fast-track the entry of Ukrainians. The White House was considering both humanitarian parole, a presidential authority that does not guarantee permanent legal status, and the Priority-2 designation program, which has been used for Afghans and others fleeing war zones. they stated.

Ukrainians seeking asylum in the United States gather at a government shelter in the city of Tijuana, Mexico on April 6.Mario Tama/Getty Images

“At a time when a quarter of the population is displaced, the commitment of 100,000 cannot be ambitious,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. , a refugee resettlement agency. “That has to be the bare minimum of what we do. So the question is, what comes next?

Other open questions are whether the engagement is time-limited, what exact avenues the administration will use and how, and will there be a focus on certain populations, among others, he said. she stated.

Naomi Steinberg, vice president of policy and advocacy for HIAS, an American Jewish humanitarian organization, said one of the groups “we think they shouldn’t be forced or shouldn’t have to wait in Europe are those with family reunification cases, as they clearly loved those who desperately want them to come.

“We need to make sure these family reunification cases go through the US refugee resettlement program,” she said. “We want the administration to rely heavily on resettlement over humanitarian parole,” which does not confer a pathway to lawful permanent residency or a pathway to citizenship.

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The plea for a more definitive plan comes as gruesome new details about Russia’s war in Ukraine have come to light.

Earlier this week gruesome images emerged of civilians being killed across the town of Bucha, and on Friday Ukrainian officials said at least 50 people, including children, were killed when two rockets hit a train station in Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region as thousands tried to evacuate.

More than 1,600 civilians have been killed and more than 2,200 injured since the start of the Russian attack, the United Nations said on Friday, adding that it believes “the actual numbers are considerably higher”. This week, the mayor of the beleaguered port city of Mariupol said at least 5,000 people have died since the Russian invasion.

Ukrainians and advocates demand timeline and other details on welcoming refugees to US
On Wednesday, residents walked amid debris and destroyed Russian military vehicles on a street in Bucha, Ukraine.Chris McGrath/Getty Images

While some Ukrainians continue to wait in Ukraine or other parts of Europe, others have attempted to cross the southern US border to seek asylum – a dangerous process that also does not guarantee permanent protections.

“When families are fleeing war, receiving protection should not be means-tested,” Vignarajah said. “I think that’s where we are seriously concerned.”

Advocates said the administration should also do more to deal with immigrants waiting to enter the United States after fleeing violence in their home country.

Last week, the administration announced that families and single adult asylum seekers who had been turned away at the southern border since the start of the pandemic will be given the opportunity to enter the United States and file a refugee claim. asylum from 23 May.

There are currently thousands of migrants living in poor conditions and camps in northern Mexico after being turned away under the rule, known as Title 42.

Vignarajah said “inequity is inappropriate anywhere”, especially when “it comes to life or death decisions”.

She said new data from the U.S. refugee admissions program showed the U.S. resettled just 12 Ukrainians in March.

“Obviously there’s still work to be done,” she said.

In Ukraine, Berezhnytska said she wanted people “to know that our children are deprived of childhood and we just want to save their lives, that they are innocent of what is being done.”

“We’re not asking for money or things. We’re asking for help finding a family who will take care of us,” she said. “Just give us that chance as soon as possible.”

Her mother, Lidiya Volosyanko, a sixth-grade teacher at a Ukrainian school in New York, said in tears: “I hope I can save their lives, for my daughter, for my grandchildren.

“I pray every day,” she said.

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