Ukrainians caught in red tape as they seek refuge

Atticus Chames, Staff Writer

More than 4 million Ukrainians have fled their country since Russia’s invasion began in late February, with over 2 million pouring into Poland, and millions more moving into surrounding European countries.

The war continues to displace citizens as Russian president, Vladimir Putin and the Russian military relentlessly bombard civilian areas, loot small towns, torture residents and massacre citizens. 

In an effort to provide refuge to those affected by the onslaught, countries in the European Union have offered visa-free entry and temporary protection for at least one year. Canada responded by fast-tracking visas, and the United Kingdom promised visas to Ukrainians with hosts in the country. However, the United States has been much slower to offer refuge.

One month after Russia’s invasion, President Biden announced that the United States would accept up to 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine and that the US would donate $1 billion to help European countries scrambling to provide services and housing for the new immigrants.

“While we expect many Ukrainians will choose to remain in Europe close to family and their homes in Ukraine,” Biden explained, “today, the United States is announcing plans to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia’s aggression through the full range of legal pathways.”

The initiative won praise from many immigration advocates and Ukranians still in Europe seeking refuge. However, people can’t help but feel that the US can and must do more. 

“The administration has options and there is precedent in emergencies like this for moving large groups of people to the US,” said Melanie Nezer, senior vice-president for global public affairs at HIAS, a non-profit humanitarian organization that provides services to refugees and asylum seekers, in an interview with The Guardian. “The Kosovar Albanians in the ‘90s were airlifted to an army base in New Jersey, and their refugee processing was finished here.”

Former president Trump’s administration set a cap of 15,000 refugee admissions through the US Refugee Program in 2020 – a record low from the years prior. In combination with the effects COVID has had on refugee programs, it has become increasingly difficult for people to acquire visas. 

According to a report by the US Department of State, “the pandemic continues to severely impact the number of visas our embassies and consulates abroad are able to process.”

“The US needs a much more robust refugee and asylum policy,” said Nezer. “Now’s the time to pour the resources, when we have all of this community support and the American people are really so much on board. Now’s the time to fix the problems, rebuild and be ready to be a welcoming nation again.”