116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
BRUSSELS — President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the United States would welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, though he said many probably prefer to stay closer to home, and it would provide an additional $1 billion in food, medicine, water and other humanitarian supplies.
The refugees would be brought into the U.S. through a variety of legal pathways, including the conventional U.S. refugee program as well as more agile mechanisms such as "humanitarian parole," which the Biden administration used for tens of thousands of Afghans last year during Operation Allies Welcome, said an administration official.
Some of the Aghan refugees have arrived in the Cedar Rapids area, and work to help relocate Ukrainian refugees here, too, has already begun.
Cecilia Rokusek, president and chief executive officers of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids, has been in contact with Iowa’s elected officials in Washington about bringing Ukrainian refugees to Iowa.
Through her connections to Ukraine, she’s been in touch with two families who have fled Ukraine and asking about coming to the United States.
One is a married couple who left behind a business and their home, carrying just one suitcase. They fled during the height of the Russians bombing their city, and witnessed grisly scenes as they took side roads out of the country. They saw dead bodies in the street, and a car that was driving in front of them being hit by a bomb. They are now in Slovakia.
“It was unimaginable tragedy. That’s why they left. They took one suitcase and they left,” Rokusek said last week.
The other family fled from Odesa to Romania, after it took 16 hours to drive about 31 miles with three young children in the car. The family is currently staying in an Airbnb and working to get the children’s passports updated, but it’s a challenging endeavor.
Rokusek said there’s strong desire to help these refugees, and said she’s willing to host them as long as they need. Both families are in a holding pattern, Rokusek said. They are eager for the war to be over with so they can return home.
However, they’re also trying to plan for the future. If they do come to the United States, Rokusek said they want to be able to get jobs and earn a living, but they need approval to get work visas.
Earlier this week, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called for the West to establish an "air bridge" to aid the escape of refugees fleeing Russian aggression. Baerbock said she expects the effort to be the biggest relocation process since World War II.
A U.S. official said the goal of efforts between U.S. and European officials is to distribute the refugees across the West — including across the Atlantic — to avoid overburdening any single country. The U.S. offer to take up to 100,000 refugees evolved from a lower number earlier in the week, said another official.
In a fact sheet describing the initiative, the White House said it was "working to expand and develop new programs with a focus on welcoming Ukrainians who have family members in the United States."
"The United States and the European Union are also coordinating closely to ensure that these efforts, and other forms of humanitarian admission or transfers, are complementary and provide much-needed support to Ukraine's neighbors," the document says.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday aboard Air Force One en route to Brussels, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that the growing flow of refugees flooding into Europe was one of the major topics on the agenda for Biden's trip. He added that it was important "that we all work together to do our part on the humanitarian element of this crisis both to suffering inside Ukraine and the refugee crisis outside Ukraine."
"Here Europe has really stepped up in a huge way, and it's the United States that will be coming with additional commitment on both humanitarian assistance and refugees tomorrow," Sullivan said Wednesday.
The Associated Press and Michaela Ramm of The Gazette contributed to this report.