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Washington, D.C.— Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Wednesday night military operations in Ukraine in a speech that appeared to serve as a declaration of war. The announcement comes amid concerns that a full Russian invasion of Ukraine could produce between 1 million to 5 million refugees, according to U.S. officials. There have already been reports of casualties and people starting to flee their homes to seek safety, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
A number of Central European nations, including Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, have indicated they are preparing for an influx of refugees in light of the region’s close geographical and cultural ties to Ukraine; however, concerns remain around their capacity to accommodate displaced persons on such a large scale. Approximately 5,000 U.S. troops from the 82nd Airborne Division were deployed to Poland last week and are working with Polish forces to establish processing centers for those expected to flee.
The following is a statement by Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service:
“Our prayers are first and foremost with those whose lives are being upended by Russia’s aggression in creating this violent conflict. The humanitarian implications of a full Russian invasion must be a central consideration in the U.S. and international response. Thousands could lose their lives, and millions more could lose the only home they have ever known. The U.S. and its allies must prepare to respond to the very real possibility of a mass exodus of Ukrainian refugees. Protecting the displaced cannot merely be an afterthought.
While some Central European nations have made commitments, it is unlikely these nations could successfully support millions of refugees without robust assistance from the U.S. and the broader international community. As the world’s humanitarian leader, the U.S. should do everything in its power to help its closest allies as they welcome Ukrainians seeking safe haven. The administration’s deployment of 5,000 additional troops to Poland to assist with response efforts, many of whom served heroically in the evacuation from Afghanistan, is a welcome first step.
The U.S. can also lead by example and live up to its highest ideals in welcoming more refugees fleeing violent conflict, including from Ukraine. The refugee resettlement system is precisely how we protect vulnerable populations, whether they are from Afghanistan or Ukraine. The Biden administration’s increase of the refugee ceiling to 125,000 coupled with low refugee arrivals to date means there is ample room to welcome Ukrainians in search of safety. The administration must rebuild and streamline the refugee program’s processing capacity to prepare for this new humanitarian emergency.”