Ohio officials prepare to welcome Ukrainian refugees likely to resettle in Buckeye State | Ohio News | Cincinnati

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photo: Nathan Rizzuti

At a March 17, 2022 summit, Ohio organizations are aligning their plans and preparing for a potential influx of refugees from Ukraine.

As the Russian war against Ukraine entered its fourth week, more than 3,000,000 Ukrainians fled their home country, more than half of these refugees being children.

On March 17, at St. Vladimir’s Great Hall in the Ukrainian village of Parma, the Ohio Department of Employment and Family Services hosted a summit to discuss a potential influx of Ukrainian refugees into the northeast Ohio.

The event brought together groups of representatives from Ohio’s nine federally funded resettlement agencies, other charities, churches and community groups. Governor Mike DeWine and many other federal, state and local officials were also present.

DeWine convened the summit with remarks regarding the ongoing affliction unleashed on the Ukrainian people by Vladimir Putin.

“Today we meet to discuss the possibility of bringing – to Ohio – refugees from Ukraine, as Putin continues his barbaric, brutal, savage and unjustified war.”

He explained his awareness of the refugee crisis, noting that at this time the federal government has not yet confirmed that Ukrainian refugees will be sent to Ohio.

“Our meeting today is early,” DeWine remarked. “We don’t know how many refugees will come here or even if we will have refugees. But it looks like we need to be prepared…We have a long history in this country, and we have a long history in Ohio of reaching out to refugees.”

Ohio has often been one of the main American states to welcome the dispossessed who seek refuge. In a 2018 report by the National Immigration Forum, Ohio ranked third in the total number of resettled refugees, just behind Texas and Washington. And since the fall of the Afghan government, Cleveland has become the new home of more than 700 Afghan refugees.

DeWine emphasized the unique importance of the Ukrainian village and how the federal government will not overlook the ethnic roots of communities as it advances its strategy for Ukrainian refugees.

“When the federal government resettles refugees, one of the things they look at is if there is a welcoming population, but also a population of people who come from this country. So one would expect that when the feds get to the point where you have refugees here, that Ohio will definitely be one of the states that the feds will look to. So let me say very, very clearly to everyone – Ohio welcomes and will welcome all refugees who come from Ukraine.”

In a separate press conference, DeWine explained that the summit was not at the request of the federal government, but was planned as a precautionary measure by the state so that local organizations could be as united and prepared. as possible when the time comes.

Then, on the agenda, two round tables. The first panel included representatives from three of Ohio’s nine federally funded resettlement agencies. They explained the reasoning behind the placement of refugees and the challenges they face once the placement is finalized.

Heath Rosenberger, program director for the Office of Migration and Refugee Services at Cleveland Catholic Charities, detailed the typical urgent timeline for refugee resettlement. He noted that his office only receives one to two weeks notice before arrival. In this time frame, they form a plan to meet the distinct needs of each individual/family. These requirements include housing, education, medical care, transportation and employment opportunities.

Rosenberger explained that once a refugee arrives, the initial resettlement process only takes 30 to 90 days, making it essential to have as many things in place as possible in advance, including available housing. , school placements, job opportunities, language programs, and volunteers willing to help with basic chores like groceries, moving, and transportation.

In addition, he described the unfortunate but common impacts of cultural upheaval and trauma associated with being a war refugee in a new country, which can create barriers to achieving the goals of early resettlement to guide refugees towards self-sufficiency, especially when cash assistance is needed. often insufficient.

But such challenges have not gone unconquered. Darren Hamm, director of the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), spoke about his organization’s response to the refugee crisis in Afghanistan last August.

“With these massive arrivals, we were doing more in a week than we had done in an entire year. I think we really started to calculate who are our partners, who are our allies and friends, who are these volunteers who were ready to show up… We had a lot of people when this news broke, knocking on our doors and saying, how do we help?

Because of this proven network of volunteers, community partners, and channels for monetary involvement, the panel concluded with optimism that Northeast Ohio’s response to a rush of Ukrainian refugees would be immediate and effective.

The final panel explored the reality of the refugee experience.

The first speaker was Bakht Zaman Moqbel, who shared the story of his displacement from Afghanistan and eventual resettlement in northeast Ohio. On August 8, he and his family flew out of Kabul amid rising violence and instability. They were given temporary living arrangements upon arrival in Cleveland before eventually moving into permanent housing. He explained how Ohio Resettlement Services took care of his family’s situation during such a difficult time.

“They helped me in every way. They registered my children in school, they put us in contact with the health services, they told us how to register for English lessons. After a some time I applied for a job at USCRI.”

Within two weeks at USCRI, Moqbel had been promoted to Case Manager. Now he’s supporting people through the same chaos he experienced just a few months ago. He expressed his gratitude to the workers from the various resettlement services, the volunteers who helped his family through the transition process and the staff at the school his children attend.

Marta Kelleher, president of the United Ukrainian Organizations of Ohio, spoke of her recent trip to the Ukrainian-Polish border, where she witnessed an emerging demand for humanitarian assistance.

Kelleher explained that the United Ukrainian Organizations of Ohio was established in 1928. Since then, it has helped generations of immigrants from around the world assimilate to Ohio through an extensive network of civic, cultural , religious and financial, all of which come under its organization.

She said the current feeling among Ukrainian refugees is one of desperate hope that the war will end soon. She says this may influence the number of evacuees who decide to apply for refugee status in the United States.

“One thing we heard was that they expressed hope to return to their home country at some point,” Kelleher said. “So while we’re talking about refugee status, it’s a big decision, because the individual has to give up their Ukrainian passport and citizenship (to come to the United States). So most of them are hoping to go back to Ukraine eventually. and currently choose countries that are geographically close to their husbands and homelands.”

However, she claimed that planning is still needed and they have started accumulating donations and volunteer services on fundforukraine.org.

“But we have to be prepared. As we know since World War II, America has integrated and absorbed over 200,000 Ukrainian immigrants,” Kelleher said. “Ohio and Northeast Ohio are equipped to be able to bring shelters in and set them up in a safe area for them, where they understand the culture, and can also answer any other questions or issues they have. might have.”

Last to speak was Joe Cimperman, president of Global Cleveland, an organization that coordinates fundraising, housing needs, volunteers and job opportunities for refugees. Laconically, he states the reason that summoned the group to Saint Vladimir that day.

“The question is, what can we do now?”

He explained that at globalcleveland.org, they aggregate lists of volunteers, services, job postings, and living spaces from anyone who wants to participate. Additionally, Global Cleveland has advocated for the creation of expedited refugee status for those who want it.

“The one thing that we have communicated to our federal officials is that regardless of the number of people who come here from Ukraine, especially for those who want to return, let us have an unrestricted work visa for everyone who comes. .. Let people work here instead of the hurdles that our federal government puts people through,” Cimperman said.

Although words like “potential,” “unknown,” “if” and “possibility” sprouted in nearly every speech throughout the summit, Cimperman made no attempt to conceal his assurance of the dawning reality.

“We know people are going to start coming, if not in the next few weeks, in the next few months. And we need to stay focused on them before another crisis or something distracts people.” he said.

It was a prophecy that only took a few minutes to come true. As the summit ended with closing comments, Cimperman announced that he had just received a text message.

“He arrived today, Governor, at 3:02 p.m.: A Ukrainian family just arrived here in Brook Park. They need to be connected. They have a language barrier, and there is a mother and a child of ten years. “

This story was originally published by CityBeat’s sister newspaper, Cleveland Scene.

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