Our panelists discuss the growing Ukrainian refugee crisis, the situation on the ground in Poland and other neighboring countries where over three million Ukrainians have fled, and what is to be expected in the weeks ahead.
YAGER: Thank you. Hi, everyone. This event is part of a Council on Foreign Relations great series on Ukraine and what is happening in that region. I have attended most of them about Ukraine, have been really pleased with all of the experts that have been here. It feels like getting a master’s degree, actually, on conflict and great-power competition. Today we’re here to talk about refugees, and especially refugees fleeing out of Ukraine to the West, and what that means for U.S. policy, for European policy, what it actually means for the refugees themselves.
We’ve got a great lineup of speakers for you. And I just wanted to give a little bit of framing before we—before we introduce who they are. So last I read, the U.N. was saying there are 10 million people displaced because of the conflict in Ukraine. That’s 3.6 refugees—meaning they have left Ukraine going to Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova, also into Russia and Belarus. And then there are 6.5 million IDPs, meaning internally displaced people, half of which are women and are in many ways more vulnerable than the typical refugee.
So clearly this will have knock-on effects. The refugees themselves are suffering. Certainly, neighboring countries are suffering under the weight of the refugee flows. But the knock-on effects are also going to be seen in the next few weeks and months, possibly longer. There is already some of the knock-on effects of the conflict creating hardship in the Horn and drought there. There are certainly effects, because this is not the only refugee crisis in the world. The other ones do not go away. This is compounding what has already been happening for Syrians, Afghans, Libyans, Ethiopians. Plenty of other crises in the world, which we will be looking at here today.
There has been an outpouring of support for Ukrainian refugees. The European Union has granted Ukrainians blanket three years of their right to stay and to work. The United States, President Biden, just made an announcement that I will not preview, because we have Nancy Izzo Jackson who will want to talk about that. So I will leave it to here, not steal her thunder. And then there are some issues of discomfort too that we will talk about today, especially for those of us who deal with human rights and humanitarian issues.
The two that I can think of most immediately, one of them is this “they’re just like us” thing that we have been hearing many people say. Either they are just like us or, more covertly, to say, look, these are—these are Europeans, they are not from places of conflict, they don’t have that kind of tradition. So that is devastating rhetoric to hear, and especially for those of us who have come from dealing with the Afghan crisis back in August and September, which is so ongoing for so many Afghan refugees. Ethiopia, there were five hundred thousand displaced in one month, and we’re not hearing a lot about that. So that is certainly one issue of discomfort.
And then another issue of discomfort is how many people who are not of Ukrainian—Ukrainian born, Ukrainian citizens, can get out of Ukraine. So we’re seeing some discrimination of other ethnicities, of Africans at the border. So we’re going to want to talk through all of that as well.
With me today, Amanda Catanzano, who is the vice president of global policy and advocacy at the International Rescue Committee, an organization that many of us know very well, working in the region, working within Ukraine. We’re going to hear from her.
Nancy Izzo Jackson, who is the senior bureau official at PRM, which is Populations, Refugees and Migration, within the State Department. Has a very long history of working on these issues, including within the U.S. government.
And Mark Hetfield, who is the president of HIAS and it is a humanitarian organization that is also working with Ukrainians, trying to get them to safety, ensuring that they have the dignity and the things that they need wherever they are going.
So, Amanda, I want to start with you. I painted this picture of the huge numbers of refugees that are flowing west. IRC, the International Rescue Committee, is working in a lot of those neighboring countries, and you are working with Ukrainians. Can you just give us a lay of the land? What are you seeing?
CATANZANO: Sure. Thank you, Sarah. And thanks to CFR for hosting this conversation. It’s an honor and always a pleasure to be with you, and with Nancy and Mark. I know I’m going to learn a lot, as I always do, just from listening to you all. So thank you.
So, yeah. Sarah, you did lay out the huge scale of this displacement and this need. I think maybe to put it in a little bit of additional context, we’re talking about 10 million people in a month. That’s one out of four of every person in Ukraine. That’s a fourth of the population a move in a month. And the makeup of this displaced population I think is worth underscoring again as well. Ninety percent of those who’ve left Ukraine are women or children. We’re talking about, you know, a million and a half women in a month, and a large proportion of elderly and displaced—I mean, I’m sorry—disabled as well.
We just wrapped up—the IRC just wrapped up an assessment in Poland, in which almost every respondent was elderly or was a single mother. So I think that really lends credence to these numbers of the makeup of this population, and the sort of protection risks and vulnerabilities and particular needs that come along with it. I think it’s also—even though that number in terms of, you know, what in a month is really shocking, we haven’t seen that kind of pace or scale since the start of the Rohingya crisis in 2017. But even just a month in, we’re already seeing numbers three times that high.
And I think we just have admit that those numbers are going to go up. The brutality of this conflict, the siege tactics, the attacks on civilian infrastructure, on hospitals, they’re going to drive more and more people to make the difficult and dangerous decisions to flee. The U.N.’s estimating 5 million with leave Ukraine, but some European member countries area already adjusting that number up to 8 million or 15 million. So anyway you add it up, I mean, the scale is just massive.
And I think it’s also important for us to learn from previous refugee contexts. The further you get along, the later waves of displacement are populations and individuals with different and more needs. They have fewer resources, they have fewer family connections to rely on, to move on with in Europe. They have experienced more trauma. And we’re already seeing that in reception centers in Poland and elsewhere. But I think, you know, amidst all of this suffering, you know, what we’re also seeing is the emergence of a truly pan-European response. Yeah, it’s 2 ½ million—all eyes are on Poland. You know, it’s 2 ½ million, two-thirds of the refugees are pouring into Poland.
But we’re seeing significant numbers from where we are in in Moldova, but also in Slovakia and Czech Republic and Hungary, and already onward movement, you know, to the tune of, you know, over 175,000 people to Germany and, albeit in smaller numbers, elsewhere in Europe as well. So these countries are keeping their borders open even as this—you know, these numbers are surging. And we’re seeing the EU deploy funding to these states of first refuge quickly to, you know, open and expand reception centers, to expand the support for arrivals.
And, Sarah, you mentioned, we already saw the EU earlier this month trigger, for the first time, that Temporary Protection Directive. That grants temporary protection here for up to three years for most Ukrainians—most fleeing the Ukrainian crisis. I think we do have to put a little bit of an asterisk there and come back to that. But it also, I think, is important to highlight that’s not just, you know, right to be there. That’s additional rights, access to work, and health care, and education. And we know from other settings that’s best practice. So the focus is now on member states, you know, to implement that in an effective and inclusive way.
You know, and I think there’s a few other things that we’re keeping our eye on that—you know, in terms of the European response and what’s needed. I know you touched on this, and I think it’ll be a theme throughout, that this inclusive approach is open to third-country nationals as well, safe passage into Europe and inclusion in TPD for all who are fleeing Ukraine, not just Ukrainian nationals. I think we are going to really push for relaxation of documentation and, you know, procedural requirements. We need to streamline that bureaucracy not just for speed, but also the recognition of the reality that the further along we go in this, people are not going to arrive with their papers in order. We’re going to—we don’t want bureaucracy to get in the way of what we have seen to be very good intentions on behalf of the EU member states so far.
We’re also looking to see our biggest—see the foundations being laid down for not just emergency aid, but a longer-term response that includes this focus on integration, and also the specific needs of this population when it comes to immigration—concerning how many single mothers there are, and other needs of this particular demographic. It’s going to be important to lay that groundwork now. And I think we’re in this moment where humanitarian obligations and the politics are really aligned. But this is going to be a protracted crisis. And there’s going to be pressure on the politics of welcome over time, as we’ve seen in so many contexts.
And there’s a role for U.S. humanitarian diplomacy on that. You know, substantive and symbolic solidarity in terms of funding and responsibility sharing with displaced—with the displaced in those communities who are hosting them. I know Nancy’s going to—I’m not going to steal her thunder either, but sure seems like there’s a step in the right direction today. That’s going to be critical as the politics in Europe get tricker on this, you know, over time. I think we’re at a high-water mark.
We’re also, you know, watching a few other things that we’re concerned about. And I think we’ll unpack them hopefully through the course of the conversation. Already, you know, our eyes on emerging capacity restraints in these countries of first refuge. The Warsaw population’s already swollen by 15 percent, and Krakow has absorbed a hundred thousand people in a population of 7(00,000) or 800,000. The Czech Republic is already signaling that sort of—that they’re at capacity. We already are concerned about protection risks, gender-based violence, and sexual abuse and exploitation and trafficking, given this unique composition of this displaced population, where you need to see that this is factored into program design and implementation really early on.
We’re concerned, you know, about humanitarian access inside Ukraine. Understandably we’ve got our eyes on this massive population that’s flowing out of the country, but, you know, most Ukrainians are still in Ukraine. Thirteen million of them are caught in conflict zones, in addition to the 6.5 million who’ve been displaced. There’s got to be a focus on how we get a response to scale, given security and other risks that we’re staring down right now as humanitarians trying to get to people in need. And then, as you alluded to too, Sarah, I think taking that step back and how we—you know, we put our eyes on this very important crisis, but we also figure out how to keep our eye on the ball when it comes to other crises.
We were already facing record levels of displacement and need before February 24th. And like you said, they haven’t gone away. And like you said, this crisis is going to compound those humanitarian emergencies, given the Ukrainian and Russian role as a leading producer and exporter of wheat. You rightfully, you know, I think, highlighted the Horn, where 90 percent of wheat is imported from Russia and Ukraine. This is—you know, populations in Somalia, in Kenya, and in Ethiopia are already on the knife’s edge of famine. So I think it’s going to be important to figure out how we’re going to walk and chew gum as humanitarians and donors, given this level of need.
So I think that’s kind of the lay of the land from where we see it, as we work to respond in Poland and inside Ukraine and Moldova. I’m really looking forward to hearing the perspectives of the other speakers.
YAGER: Thanks, Amanda. Really appreciate that. And, you know, I want to go to Nancy next to talk about what the U.S. is doing, because we’re talking right now about response and particularly nations responding. But, Mark, I’m then I’m going to come to you at HIAS, because, you know, you guys have been seeing the lay of the land in much broader terms. And I want to—I want to understand from you what challenges you see still need to be addressed. And so not to—not to necessarily critique what Nancy is about to say, but rather to—(laughter)—to note what the U.S. is doing, but then to bring us home with what more needs to be done.
So, Nancy, please go ahead.
JACKSON: Sure. Thanks so much. And thank you, Sarah, and thank you to the Council for Foreign Relations for inviting me to participate in this really important conversation. And, you know, I’m listening to Amanda and I’m just nodding my head because everything that she says is everything you would have heard from me. In terms of the laydown, couldn’t agree more. The numbers are astounding. It’s the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. You know, I was in Poland right after Putin started this invasion, just days after. And at that point they were receiving over a hundred thousand people a day into just Poland. So in size, scope and scale, and the pace at which people are fleeing, is really historic—historic levels.
Couldn’t agree more with what Amanda said in terms of what we need to watch for and the protection concerns. Also very much what was astounding to me, being at the Polish-Ukrainian border, was seeing how it’s all women and children. There were just no men. And a lot of elderly. These are people that had walked or, you know, gone through frigid temperatures for a really long time to find safety. And I will say that I was so impressed by how quickly the Poles were able to stand up reception centers, try to expedite people through border areas. There were Polish NGOs and community groups, Polish-Ukrainian community groups that were at the border providing assistance, whether it was food, whether it was diapers. I mean, just the whole gamut.
It was really extraordinary to see. And I really do want to start by commending our European allies and partners, those who have welcomed millions of people in less than one month’s time. They really are at the forefront of the response and we are wanting to support them in that through our cooperation, coordination, funding with international and nongovernmental organizations who are working to mitigate this humanitarian crisis. So I just wanted to start with that acknowledgement, and very much agree with all that Amanda said. And as far as Mark and critiquing me, we are old partners in crime. And I’m just thrilled that HIAS is such a strong partner with PRM on so much of what we do, both in terms of the humanitarian assistance but also in terms of resettlement. And so very grateful to be on the panel with him as well.
So, what are we doing to help? We had a couple bit announcements today coming out of the White House. And I loved the kind of intro that I got from both you, Sarah, and Amanda not stealing my thunder. (Laughter.) So let’s start with the big announcement, shall we? Today the White House announced that we are prepared to provide more than $1 billion in new funding towards humanitarian assistance for all of those who are affected by Russia’s war in Ukraine, as well as its severe impacts around the world, including what we are seeing as a market rise in food insecurity over the coming months. This gets to Amanda’s point about the downstream effects and the knock-on effects, Sarah, that you mentioned.
We are working very closely with the government of Ukraine, neighboring governments in the region, the European Union, international and nongovernmental organizations, and other partners around the close to address the urgent humanitarian needs resulting from this crisis. We have also deployed experienced staff to the region who are closely coordinating with these same organizations on the ground to monitor developments, assess needs, and respond as quickly as we possibly can. The other big announcement today was that the Biden administration announced we are planning to welcome up to one hundred thousand Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia’s aggression into the United States.
And to meet this commitment, we are considering a full range of legal pathways to the U.S. In particular, we’re going to work on expanding current and developing new programs that will focus on welcoming Ukrainians who have family members here in the United States. But we are also continuing to process applications through our U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program and are streaming our processing operations to accommodate, as best as we possibly can, the increase in application numbers. To that end, we’ve moved our operations from Kyiv, where we were unable to operate for obvious reasons, to Chișinău, Moldova. And we are looking at additional locations in the region and ways to process this caseload as quickly as we possibly can.
We have heard from many in the diaspora community here that they are eager to welcome their Ukrainian family members into their homes as quickly as possible. So we are also wanting to do that, but we are also committed to protecting the most vulnerable among the refugee community itself. And these are the points that Amanda made about this population. There are particularly vulnerable refugees that we want to make sure are not overlooked in this response. And I’m thinking particularly about including LGBTQI individuals and that community, those with medical needs and conditions, third-country nationals—this gets to the point you started us off with Sarah in terms of fairness. So third-country nationals who have already sought refuge in Ukraine, journalists, dissidents, and others with particular vulnerabilities.
We are coordinating our efforts very closely with the European—our European partners and allies who are on the frontlines of this crisis, as I said. We will have more details to share on all of these new and expanded pathways in the weeks ahead. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are really eager to do it. We still expect that many displaced Ukrainian citizens will want to stay in neighboring countries or elsewhere in Europe, where they may have family or they may—are going to a very large diaspora community in Europe, in the hopes that they can return soon. Many—I mean, remember, these are mostly women and children. They’ve left behind husbands and fathers and sons. And I think they all are hoping they can go home soon, as we all do hope.
But at the same time, we also recognize that some members of the Ukrainian community who’ve fled may wish to come to the U.S., temporarily even, to reunite with family. So by opening our country to these individuals through multiple pathways, we will help relieve some of the pressure on the European host countries that are currently shouldering so much of the responsibility that we’ve seen today. So with that, I’ll stop. Just to kind of reinforce what I should have started with, which is that we are—we stand with Ukraine, the Ukrainian government, and its people. The courage of the people of Ukraine, the generosity who have—all who have stepped up in their time of need is truly inspiring. And we continue to stand with them. Our support for the people and the government of Ukraine is steadfast, and it will endure. Because this will be a protracted situation, as Amanda noted. Thanks very much for having me, again.
YAGER: Thanks, Nancy. Really appreciate that.
Mark, HIAS has been working—you mentioned to me that all of your staff in Ukraine is displaced. Actually, you have policy recommendations. I would also really love to hear, and I think our audience would really love to hear just at the start, what’s it like? How are your staff functioning? How has this—you know, you’ve dealt with a lot of refugee situations. How is this different? How is this the same?
HETFIELD: Great. No, thanks, Sarah. And I’ll start by giving a little bit of history about HIAS in Ukraine, because it’s really necessary to set the context for what’s going on right now. And that is when I joined HIAS in 1989 as a caseworker, through the year 2000 when we actually opened up our office in Kyiv, in Ukraine, the number-one source of HIAS’ clients were Ukrainians, in terms of the refugees that we assisted. And at that time, they were Ukrainian Jews. At that time, HIAS was helping primarily Jewish refugees. We like to say that we used to help refugees because they were Jewish. Today we help refugees because we are Jewish. But back then we were helping primarily Jewish refugees. They were all fleeing a lifetime of antisemitism in Ukraine and the former Soviet Union.
Back then there was no such thing as a Ukrainian Jew. You were a Jew from Ukraine, and the people we were helping were Jews who were fleeing as Jews from Ukraine. But a Ukrainian Jew was an oxymoron. It was a contradiction in terms. You could be either Ukrainian or Jewish. That is a totally different situation today. Today we’re helping everybody who’s fleeing Ukraine, including Jews. But the Jews who are fleeing Ukraine now are not fleeing as Jews. They are fleeing as Ukrainians. The basis for their flight is the same as every other Ukrainian. And the Ukrainian Jewish community has become very proud to be Ukrainian and Jewish. And I can’t overemphasize what a huge change that is. And of course, President Zelensky is the very personification of the change that has undergone in Ukraine.
In terms of HIAS’ work itself, we started our office in 2000 to help Ukrainian Jews get to the United States as refugees based on a history of enduring antisemitism over the course of their lifetimes. But we were approached by UNHCR, by the U.N. refugee agency in Kyiv, just a couple of years later. And they had to deal with this caseload of people who were transiting from other countries—neighboring former Soviet republics, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Ethiopia—through Ukraine trying to find refuge in Europe. They got caught in Ukraine and were danger of being deported back to where they came from. So HIAS and UNHCR partnered together to make sure that they were not sent back to places where they could be harmed, to pursue their asylum claims.
Frankly, it was very hard to be an asylum seeker in Ukraine in those days, as now. And so that was a very lonely job that HIAS and the U.N. refugee agency had to do together. But then in 2014, when Russia invaded Crimea and started the artificial conflicts in the east, we saw a massive displacement of 740,000 people. And at that time, HIAS was the only agency in Ukraine, really, that had much experience in forced displacement. So we were, again, invited by the U.N. refugee agency to offer legal protection, to work with them to provide legal protection to the massive number of displaced persons within Ukraine. And many other NGOs were formed within Ukraine at that time. Many other international NGOs came in. Many have since left.
HIAS itself, though, changed from being HIAS Ukraine to being a truly Ukrainian-led, Ukrainian organization, known as R2P or Right to Protection. So when we talk about our staff in Ukraine, it really is not the HIAS staff, but the right to protection or R2P staff, which are 160 people, many of whom had already been displaced once, working in the eastern part of the country and throughout other parts of the country as well to help secure the rights of internally displaced persons, in addition to continuing to work for asylum seekers. And in the contingency plannings, frankly, that we did with our U.N. partner agencies, what is happening right now was not even the worst-case scenario.
So what we are seeing right now with the millions of people who are being displaced and forced into becoming refugees, including our own staff who continue to provide aid through R2P, was just absolutely unanticipated. And thank God, you know, for the U.N. While the U.N. has its difficulties, we are so grateful that they are there, as is the Ukrainian government I know, to promote coordination. Because there are a lot of NGOs on the ground. This is an unprecedented refugee crisis in terms of the rapidity of the exodus. And so we are really grateful for that coordination.
I do want to say—I do want to talk to the other point that you raised about resettlement or about this wonderful announcement that was just made today about a hundred thousand refugees—or, I should say, Ukrainians who will be welcomed by the United States. We, of course, welcome that announcement. We’ve been pushing for it for some time. We’ve really wanted the United States to go beyond offering financial assistance to displaced persons to actually demonstrate that we are going to share responsibility for refugees by taking in a significant number, especially those whose family is not in Europe but in the United States. We think it’s very important that they wait out the conflict with relatives in the United States. And as well as vulnerable people, like the clients of HIAS that I was talking about before, the more vulnerable third-country nationals that may have a more difficult time getting grounded in Europe. So I’m very excited about that announcement.
As Nancy knows, we are all anxious to hear the details. The details really do matter here. Again, a little bit of history. Before 1980, the United States had totally been winging it in terms of refugees and refugee resettlement. We didn’t have a law or policy governing refugee resettlement. It was always done ad hoc through humanitarian parole, bringing in refugees here with humanitarian parole status, which is basically no status as well, and then forcing Congress to work out the details and straighten things out later so that these people would have access to benefits, access to permanent residence, access to family reunification—things that they did not have under humanitarian parole.
The Refugee Act of 1980 solved all of those problems. And it’s been used—it was used successfully for a long time. But over time the Refugee Act, the Refugee Program in particular, has become a much slower moving durable solution program, rather than an emergency response program—though it was created to be an emergency response program. And so we would very much like to see that restored in this case. We are—we are hoping that the Biden administration will follow the lead of the Clinton administration, which evacuated Kosovars from Macedonia in 1999, and finished their refugee adjudication in the United States as a way of sharing responsibility with Europe and ensuring that the people who were evacuated, while they would be able to go home when it was safe to do so, would in the meantime have the whole panoply of rights and benefits that refugees need to start a life in this country, while they wait until it is safe to go home.
Our Refugee Program takes all that into account. We have not used it that way since 1999. We did not use it with the Afghans and, frankly, we’re dealing with a big mess right now because we have 80,000 Afghans in this country who, thank God, were evacuated under humanitarian parole, but now we have to figure out what do we do with them because they have no access to family reunification, not access to permanent residence. Eighty thousand of them are now going to have to navigate our broken and overburdened and backlogged asylum system to get some kind of permanent residence. You know, we can’t subject these Ukrainians to that as well. We shouldn’t have subjected the Afghans to it either, but we didn’t have much of the choice due to the rapidity of the—of the withdrawal, and the consequences thereof.
So again, I am—we’re urging the administration to do it differently than it did during the Afghan crisis, to do it quickly, but to use the Refugee Program for its intended purposes, which is to bring people here and make sure that they have what they need to sit out this period in dignity, to be able to work, to be able to reunite with family. And then if they can’t go back in a timely fashion, to adjust to permanent residence.
YAGER: Thanks, Mark. Really helpful. I want to know, we’re going to go to question and answer from our audience. And I have so many questions myself, but I’m going to defer to the audience. They can ask it. One question I would love to ask just really short—like, if you can say yes or no, you can have a few more words than that—I would love to know: Is Europe ready to deal with this being worse than it currently is?
Amanda, Nancy, Mark.
CATANZANO: I think that’s a yes, but, would be my answer. I think yes. I think they—so far, the signs are good. I think what matters moving forward is responsibility sharing. It’s a lot of what we’re talking about today, both financial, both symbolic. I also think it’s holding feet to the fire of all EU member states to live up to TPD. And so I think it’s a yes, but.
YAGER: Great. Perfectly nuanced wonky response, as I would expect for a CFR panel.
JACKSON: (Laughs.) Well, I can just say I echo what Amanda said: yes, but. No, I think it’s extraordinary what the Europeans have done. They have really pulled out all the stops. The Temporary Protective Directive, as Amanda mentioned, is really unprecedented. So they are looking at every possible way to be welcoming and to absorb individuals. I think the challenge will be over time because the integration piece, and as people’s resources begin to be exhausted, as hosting communities that have been so generous also become exhausted, this is when we will really need, as an international community, to step up and support these individuals. And I think as an international community, we’re up to that challenge, so long as we recognize it now and start planning for it now. And I do think that’s happening.
HETFIELD: I would say “no, but,” but I mean that in a positive sense, whereas no, of course, Europe wasn’t ready, Europe isn’t ready, we’re not ready. I mean, nobody’s ready. This crisis was unanticipated in its scale. Never before in history has a nuclear superpower invaded another country and engaged in ethnic cleansing in this way. This is unprecedented in scale. This is a large country of 40 million people, the majority of whom will likely be refugees. So they’re not ready for it, but they just have to do it, and I feel the same way—we’re not ready for it either. You know, our resettlement system is in shambles after the Trump administration and also after twenty years of securitizing it. It does not function as an emergency program anymore, but it has to. So we have to rise to the occasion. I think we all will rise to the occasion.
What we cannot do is what we did in the Syria crisis, you know, where the world just kind of sat back and watched Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey take in thousands, then tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands and millions of Syrian refugees, and we said, that’s great, they’re handling it, we’ll give them some money. And then in 2015, when they were beyond their saturation points, Europe and the lives of many of these refugees themselves had to pay a very high price for that. We do not have that luxury anymore. So we’re not ready for this, Europe’s not ready for this, but we just have to do it.
YAGER: Thank you for that reminder, Mark, about the Syrians—so many different people around the world suffering from having been displaced. In Syria, I think we all remember the horrors of Syria and many of those people still displaced.
Let’s go to our audience. When you—so lots of different ways of doing this, but what would be great is just to raise your hand so that we can see you, and I will turn to Kayla and she will be able to go to you. I have done a very poor job of telling you who I am, but I would love—(laughs)—when you ask your question to please tell us who you are and your affiliation.
I’m Sarah Yager. I’m the Washington director of Human Rights Watch. I just wanted to get to the issue, so I completely forgot about the introduction. Please introduce yourself. Please keep it short so we can get to as many people as possible and actually ask a question.
Kayla, we are ready. And again, this is on the record.
OPERATOR: Thank you, Sarah.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
We’ll take our first question from Robert Kushen.
Q: Thanks. I’m Rob Kushen, the program director of Porticus Foundation.
Two quick questions. One, could you all comment on reports that undocumented Roma migrants from Ukraine are facing particular obstacles in getting sanctuary? Would the U.S. government, for example, be prepared to receive undocumented Roma? And second, to draw on Mark’s previous comments, what are the chances that the relative openness to Ukrainian migrants that we’re seeing in Europe and the U.S. translates into more systemic solutions and a greater receptivity to refugees in the future? Thank you.
YAGER: Great question, Rob. Thank you, especially on that last one.
Does anyone know about the Roma?
JACKSON: So I will say—maybe I’ll start but obviously turn it over to Amanda and Mark.
We are aware—I mean, this is a community that has historically, right, faced a lot of discrimination. I’m not aware in this particular instance of the undocumented Roma that Robert Kushen has mentioned. Happy to look into it. But also, just wanted to flag that the U.N. system is surging protection personnel to the region to look at these particularly vulnerable cases and ensure that everybody has equal access to assistance and protection, and I would say in the case of resettlement and whether we would be amenable, we always are—our kind of core tenet of the refugee program is really based on that vulnerability and protection requirements, and so we look at everyone through that lens in terms of where are they safe, and if they are not safe in the country to which they have fled, this third country resettlement in the U.S. is the best option for them and we will take any referral that comes to us from UNHCR through that lens.
HETFIELD: On this—
YAGER: Go ahead, Mark.
HETFIELD: I would just add, I was in a meeting yesterday with UNHCR Geneva where they were briefing the NGOs on this and other issues and they did acknowledge that this is not limited to the Roma. Like, one of the biggest challenges people are having right now is documentation. I mean, there are many stateless people within Ukraine, there are the Roma, many of whom don’t have proper documents. There are people who fled with—like, literally lost everything or don’t have documents with them. They said this is one of the number one issues that they’re dealing with right now. It’s also an issue with many of the asylum seekers who are in Ukraine and it’s something, as I mentioned, that our partner, Right To Protection, is working on. It’s a big challenge. I will also say, though, that the Eastern European countries that are—things are going much better and more smoothly than they were at the beginning of the process when they were simply turning back people without strong Ukrainian documentation. I think the exposure of that issue sensitized them to it and I understand that that is going much better now in terms of people not being pushed back at the border for not having that kind of documentation.
YAGER: Thanks, Mark. And Mark also mentioned some policy things that needed to be changed, sort of across the board, not just for Ukrainians, but I’m wondering, to Rob’s second question, either Nancy or Amanda—I mean, Amanda, you also served at the NSC and at the State Department.
Nancy, you are currently there, long history in the U.S. government.
Do we see this Ukrainian crisis as a—I don’t want to say open the floodgates; that scares people. Can it change some of the problematic immigration refugee resettlement policies that we’ve had?
CATANZANO: I mean, I don’t—I think my short answer to that is, honestly, I don’t know. I think we can—you know, we can commend the solidarity that’s been offered to fleeing Ukrainians and it’s really—like Nancy has said, it’s been remarkable. But I do think that this emergency has to serve as a reminder to our failures to respond in this way in the past. I mean, it’s remarkable that the Europeans have triggered the temporary protective directive, but I think we should also note it’s been on the books since 2001. This is the first time it’s been triggered. It wasn’t triggered in 2015 with the Syria crisis, it wasn’t triggered last year as Afghans were fleeing for their lives and we have those images of Kabul airport seared into our brains, and it wasn’t triggered then, so it’s—I mean, I think there’s some hope that this could be like breaking the seal on TPD. It means this is a tool that could be triggered in other circumstances; this won’t be the last crisis that Europe will deal with. But I think it still remains a question and I hope that states can display the same level of preparedness and commitment and humanitarian leadership to other displacement situations and other people seeking safety, both in Europe and in the U.S. We’ve—you know, they’ve regrettably received different treatment in the past. I think one real-time test might be the way Title 42 is being handled at the Southern border right now. You know, we were hearing reports about, you know, whether Ukrainians would be exempt from that.
YAGER: Can you say what Title 42 is?
CATANZANO: This is—I’m sorry, that is a regulation that puts limits on asylum seekers due to COVID-19 and there’s been, you know, reports, at least in the press, about this being lifted for Ukrainians where, you know, there’s a lot of other populations at the border have been held back by this regulation, so I think time will tell. I don’t know that this is going to necessarily change it, but I certainly think it’s inspiring and I do hope that people can be inspired to think more broadly about welcome.
JACKSON: So I’m—I’ll just add, I’m an optimist—(laughs)—and I would like to think, you know, now we’ve had two major crises in this year, first the Afghan evacuation and now Ukraine, and in both instances I have been overwhelmed and humbled by the huge outpouring of support from Americans. In the case of Afghans, it was veterans’ groups, it was people who had served in Afghanistan previously, and here now again we’re seeing it with Ukraine. And I just take great comfort in that because I think that that shows America and Americans at their very best and it is really heartening.
I will say that as a result of the Afghanistan evacuation, we have instituted or put in place new sponsor programs with our resettlement agencies, of which HIAS is one, where we’re trying to get more community sponsorship engagement with refugee resettlement, which I think can only be a good thing. As I said, I am an optimist and I always say, you know, if you’re anti-refugee it’s because you’ve never met a refugee. (Laughs.) I just think that meeting these individuals who bring so much to our communities is really the way to restore and build support for this program. But, again, I’m an optimist. (Laughs.)
YAGER: Thanks, Nancy.
Mark, go ahead.
HETFIELD: Yeah. I just want to add I agree with what Nancy just said. I mean, the State Department—while I just lambasted them for bringing in people under humanitarian parole, or the administration doing that, the State Department showed great flexibility with the Afghans in terms of opening up new ways of resettling them.
And the advent of private sponsorship, sponsorship circles, co-sponsorships, really opened up the doors and kind of made the refugee program so much more—and refugees—so much more accessible to congregations, organizations, and individuals around the country. And I hope that that continues beyond the Afghan crisis into the Ukrainian situation.
And I also agree that I don’t—I’m not going to—I want to make sure that the fact that people are saying they look like us, the Ukrainian refugees, that should not be held in their favor or against them. You know, we have to look at this crisis on its merits. And the fact of the matter is this is an unprecedented crisis, no matter what complexion Ukrainians have.
But I’m also hoping, on the positive side, that it’s waking up Americans to realize that really anybody can be a refugee. It’s not limited. Anybody could be a refugee at any moment. And we have to show empathy no matter who they are. We’re all created in the image of God. We’re all people. And any one of us can be subject to this level of vulnerability, no matter where we are right now in society. My community is certainly learning that the hard way.
YAGER: Thanks, Mark. And thanks, Nancy. I really appreciate those efforts to get Americans actually involved in this. It’s not just a foreign-policy or a domestic-policy issue. It’s actually one for the public.
Kayla, who comes next for our questions?
OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Molly O’Toole.
Q: Hi. Thanks for doing this. Molly O’Toole. I’m an immigration security reporter for the L.A. Times in Washington, although currently working on a book about international migration to the Americas. This is very well timed.
This is a question for Nancy. I mean, how—what is the legal policy or political justification for accepting and sending out explicit memos that accept Ukrainians from Title 42 or encouraging border authorities to accept Ukrainians from Title 42 at the southern border while explicitly rejecting and denying asylum access to Russians, to Belarusians, to Haitians, to Central Americans, to pretty much anyone from anywhere else in the world, and the border remaining closed for more than two years now.
So what is the justification for accepting legal policy and political for accepting Ukrainians from Title 42 at the southern border while blocking these other populations? And the accusation has—it’s been suggested that this is essentially racism at work. I mean, how do you respond to that?
JACKSON: Thanks, Molly. It’s a really good question.
I have to say, I will give you my answer and then I will also refer you to the Department of Homeland Security, who is responsible for operating at the border. But let me tell you what I can tell you that is in my purview.
So, first of all, just to be clear on kind of what I just announced in terms of the hundred thousand Ukrainians, we are building that effort around legal pathways to the United States, right. Title 42 is not applicable to those who come to the U.S. through a legal pathway. So anybody coming legally, regardless of their nationality, even if they are crossing the border but they are with proper documentation for legal admission to the United States, are exempt from Title 42, regardless of their origin.
Title 42 is a CDC order that was put in place given the public-health risk of COVID and the risk associated with unlawful migration and those trying to unlawfully and irregularly enter the country.
We continue to defer to CDC on how long Title 42 needs to be in place, based on public health. But it is in place now. It is being enforced and has always been the case that there are humanitarian exceptions made by Title 42 on a case-by-case basis by DHS. And that has been applied to others as well, not just Ukrainians.
But I will stop there, because really this is the purview of my colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security. But I just wanted to level set a little bit about Title 42.
HETFIELD: If I can just add, since DHS isn’t here—I mean, everything Nancy said I agree with. That was an accurate description of Title 42. I just want to add to that, which is one thing is that, I mean, in our opinion, Title 42 is illegal because it does allow for exceptions but it doesn’t allow for screening. There is not individual screening for fear. In pushing people back under Title 42, that to us is unacceptable under U.S. law. It obviously is being litigated. Hopefully, this administration will keep its promise and repeal Title 42 before that litigation is complete. But, you know, there’s no screening whatsoever.
There are the exception for Russians—actually there’s an exception for Russians and Ukrainians right now. For a while they were pushing Ukrainians back at the southern border. Then they were allowing them in but pushing Russians back. And now they’re allowing both Russians and Ukrainians in. There actually is a legal basis for that in that Mexico won’t accept Russians or Ukrainians if you push them back, but they have to accept Central Americans. So that’s the basis for that exception. But Title 42 is, in HIAS’s opinion, absolutely illegal, immoral, un-American.
YAGER: Thanks, Mark. Thanks, Nancy.
Kayla, who’s next?
OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Dana Freyer.
YAGER: Hi, Dana.
Q: Hello. It’s Dana Freyer. I’m a member of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council and Global Partnership for Afghanistan.
A question for Nancy, recognizing, of course, the huge crisis and need for Ukrainian refugees. I’m just asking you, as a representative of PRM—and I know Homeland Security has a major role in this—but the issue of the Afghan refugees, the applicants for P-2s, P-1s, SIVs, there is so much backlog in processing within the government of those applications—huge. And so many roadblocks have been placed in Afghans’ ability to leave the country, even to have their various visa applications or status adjustments. So you have a huge population of Afghans theoretically eligible to come to this country who can’t.
So what I’m asking you is, as a practical matter, how much is this going to push back even further the ability of Afghan refugees to have any prospect of getting into this country or having their status adjusted in the near future when it’s already so, so far—so delayed?
JACKSON: Thank you, Dana. It’s a great question.
Look, we are still very much committed to helping our Afghan allies and partners. And to that end, I mean, we’re very proud of the fact that Mark said 80,000. I was tracking over 75,000, right, since August that we have resettled here in the United States, albeit, as Mark said, maybe a little bit more quickly than anybody was prepared for.
But we continue to process Afghans. And we, in fact, just had another 600 Afghans arrive, I think, in the last two weeks. So processing continues. We have DHS doing flyaway teams to interview Afghans in Albania. I think just—we had a new flight from Albania arrive.
So we continue to press the Taliban to let people have freedom of movement, to let people leave when they want to leave, and to process Afghans as and when they come out. And we maintain that commitment and will continue to do so.
The Ukrainians—you know, we have—in terms of resettlement and how we run our refugee program, a lot of the Ukrainians are processed out of our resettlement-support center that, as I said, was based in Kyiv, is now in Chișinău. We are looking at other parts of Europe. We also have a resettlement-support center in Austria. But there are resettlement-support centers around the world, and so we can process—and not just Afghans. We can process the Congolese that we are doing and all the other nationalities. It's not all coming through one settlement-support center.
So I would hope that it will not negatively impact the rest of the program. We continue to work with DHS to surge those interviewings that need to take place overseas before somebody can be admitted as a refugee. And—but as Mark said, this is a program that we are in the process of rebuilding, and we are throwing everything we can to rebuild it and make it strong and grow it the way it needs to grow.
YAGER: Nancy, can I—sort of inherent in Dana’s question is one that I think those of us who don’t understand refugee resettlement in numbers, and all this—all these programs that we’re hearing about—TPS, et cetera—is it a zero-sum game? Is it—is U.S. support and aid a zero-sum game? If more Ukrainians get resettled, does that mean less Congolese and Cameroonians can get resettled? What does it mean?
JACKSON: That’s a great question. And thanks for it, Sarah.
So in terms of resettlement, every year the president signs a presidential determination that puts out the number of refugees that we will resettle in a year annually. This year, for FY 2022, that number is 125,000 people. Of that 125,000, we have allocated it regionally. So a Ukrainian is taking a slot, if you will, from Europe, but it is not taking a slot from Africa or from the Afghans, for example.
We also have an unallocated reserve. I think it’s ten thousand slots this year. So in any event, when we have an emergency like we face now, if we need additional numbers, we can tap the unallocated reserve. And so, in the case of Ukrainians, should we need to do so, we would tap that unallocated reserve.
But I do want to underscore that what we’ve announced today, this hundred thousand, it’s not all going to be refugee resettlement, right. I really want to underscore that. We are looking at the full range of legal pathways to the United States. That includes refugee resettlement, but it also includes visas, right, because there are a lot of people who have family here. And it includes parole.
And so we are looking at every possible pathway. So I don’t want people to be hung up too much on the numbers, like this is going to crowd out everybody else from the refugee program.
HETFIELD: Can I once again not contradict but add to what Nancy has said, which is that it is true that there’s a regional allocation of ten thousand and there’s an unallocated reserve of ten thousand. But to their credit, in the presidential determination the Biden administration built in flexibility where he can move those numbers around as much as he wants as long as he just notifies Congress. So those numbers are very soft.
Under the Trump administration, they actually created handcuffs for themselves. So Trump could not even move around the refugee numbers without the consent of multiple Cabinet-level secretaries. That is no longer the case. Biden is basically free to move around those refugee numbers as much or as little as he wants.
And I would also say that in terms of those alternate pathways, bringing in these people who have, for example, pending immigration visa petitions—as you know, there are many thousands of people; brothers, sisters, parents, children in the United States—who are waiting years and years and years for their visa numbers to come up. In the past, like with Haitians, for example, we’ve allowed—we’ve paroled people in for them to wait in the United States for their visa number to come up under these kind of humanitarian circumstances. That’s great, because they have a pathway to some kind of a lawful permanent status. That’s fantastic, and I hope that’s done.
I hope they do not bring in people under parole with no plan like they did with the Afghans, because that is a disaster. So I’m really hoping it’s immigrant processing, refugee processing, or something with a plan so they’re not left in limbo, adding to the millions of people we have who are undocumented, who have TPS, who have no—who are Afghans who have no plans for regularization of their status.
YAGER: Thanks, Mark.
And we have five minutes left. So Kayla, let’s go with one more question please, but short. And we’ll try to get a last word from all of our panelists.
OPERATOR: We’ll take the last question from Anthony Borden.
Q: Hi. Excuse me. Thanks so much for that. I’m Tony Borden. I’m in London at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.
I think I’m probably unique in this panel, as I took three evacuation trains over the last three weeks, one in the first week, one in the second week, and one in the third. The first two were from Lviv to Przemysl. And the third one—I couldn’t do that anymore, but I went from Odesa to Lviv, and then I got off.
I was partly going around the country, but I was also interested to see the experience. And I just wanted to comment that it was a breathtakingly traumatic experience at the start—breathtaking. In fact, I shake when I think about it. And Sarah mentioned the issue of the racial tensions, which we really don’t have time to get into but deserves consideration.
But I think everybody would be really pleased to know that it dramatically improved week on week, and the Ukrainians did an absolutely unbelievable job to make something which was horrendous and life-threatening better, because at certain points it was so dangerous on the tracks. But from that experience—and we wrote a little bit about it—it was really something. But, of course, one gets very moved to think of the contributions of the Polish population.
But just two quick points, which is that the logjam at the Polish border went all the way up to Kharkiv. I mean, you could trace it all the way back. And having taken those trains, I knew. I didn’t go to Kharkiv, but I knew that it really was. So safety and security of people in the war zone was somehow going up to that incredible Lviv station. And it’s something really to consider how help could be got to make it even better, although the Ukrainians have done a really considerably important job to make it better than it could be.
So I just—I guess I would say just the safety and security of the people within the war zone links to even every stamp in a passport at the border at the time as it goes on. And I’ve seen that. You just think, my God, there’s somebody back in a war zone thinking I’m not going to leave now because I won’t be able to get out or because I can’t fit on the train or I’ll get crushed in the station.
So I just highlight that really important point about the points you’re talking about now, which are so important. Go right back up the line, right into the war zone. And A, we need to think about it. But B, you can meantime know that it’s gotten better, and particularly the Poles have gotten to process it better. But the Ukrainians are remarkably managing it better, both at the Lviv station, volunteers along the way, and throughout that amazing train system, which continues to operate. So I’m not sure—
YAGER: Tony, thanks for—
Q: Yeah. I’m sorry that wasn’t as much of a question, but how you can make it even better would be, I guess, my question.
YAGER: Thank you. Thanks for that, Tony. And thanks for sharing your experience; glad that you’re safe.
I think, in the last minute that we have, while I know that we are a wonky policy audience, I know that we are all also struggling in these times of crisis to figure out what we can do. So I would just like the last word—Mark, Nancy, Amanda—what can we do as private citizens to help?
Amanda, you want to go first?
CATANZANO: Sure. I mean, I think that there’s the obvious—to donate to reputable organizations, particularly local organizations, that are leading this response, both in Ukraine and in countries of first refuge. And I think it’s, you know, all of the things that Nancy said about that spirit of welcome and to really, you know, express that, both as a human being but also as a political constituent, you know, to make sure that this becomes an issue that unites us rather than divides us, and that we’re not—you know, the majority isn’t silent on it. So I think it’s both, you know, financial support, but also political and emotional support as well.
YAGER: Thanks, Amanda. That’s great.
HETFIELD: I would say, adding to that, we cannot be complacent in this. Nobody can be complacent in this crisis. There’s a lot of ways for you to act, but you’ve got to act. You’ve got to speak up, because this is really unprecedented. And don’t forget about all the other refugees in the world. This crisis did not replace those. It’s just compounding those refugee crises.
YAGER: Thanks, Mark.
JACKSON: So I love this question, because it just shows how incredible we are as a nation that people want to come forward and help. And so we have a lot of ways in which to do that. If you want to help Ukrainians who are still overseas and needing humanitarian assistance, as Amanda said, donate money to reputable organizations.
It is far better for organizations to get cash that they can then use to buy what they need, where they need it and when they need it than to donate goods. Goods is just hard to manage in terms of transportation and customs and everything else that goes along with it; so strongly encourage cash as opposed to in-kind contributions.
If you want help in figuring out how to support, the State Department has on its website a United With Ukraine subsite on its website. So I encourage people to go to State.gov/UnitedWithUkraine.
If you’re looking to help Ukrainians who are here in the United States who are arriving, particularly as we are opening our doors through many legal pathways to bring them here, I would strongly encourage you to reach out to our local resettlement agencies. As I said, HIAS is one, but we have nine. There are 350 local affiliates, resettlement affiliates, in communities throughout the United States. Many, many of them have these partnerships with community-sponsorship programs that you can get involved with. And if you want the listing for those resettlement agencies, you can go to our website. It is WRAPS.org—sorry—WRAPSNET.org. And that is W-R-A-P-S-NET.org.
And so there are lots of ways for you to join in all of our efforts to really try and mitigate the horrible humanitarian impact that this war is causing.
And really I’m very grateful for the time today. Thank you.
YAGER: Thanks, Nancy. Thanks, Amanda. Thanks, Mark. Thanks, Nancy. Thanks to the Council on Foreign Relations for having such great programming on Ukraine. And thanks to our audience for attending and caring about Ukrainian refugees. Take care.