Ukrainians Are Latest Wave of Refugees

In the first month alone, the Russian invasion of Ukraine drove an estimated 10 million people from their homes, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

By mid-April, 4.9 million people had fled Ukraine for neighboring countries, and approximately 6.5 million were internally displaced. This means over a quarter of Ukraine’s population has been displaced by violence — including half of Ukraine’s children. 

“I have worked in refugee emergencies for almost 40 years, and rarely have I seen an exodus as rapid as this one,” said Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

These Ukrainians join the ranks of the approximately 84 million people worldwide who are considered by the U.N. as forcibly displaced. Approximately 20.7 million are formally categorized as “refugees,” having crossed international borders citing persecution. This is the highest number of displaced people on record. 

Moving reports of Europeans generously welcoming their Ukrainian neighbors into their homes and cities have indicated that European Union and neighboring countries are willing to host the refugees. The EU granted Ukrainian refugees three years residency automatically in the wake of the crisis. However, such a large wave of refugees is already straining resettlement systems in Europe, and as the weeks of war drag on, the question looms of how to find longer-term solutions for the refugees, many of whom are staying in temporary shelters. 

On March 24, the United States committed to welcoming 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and to donating $1 billion in resettlement aid to Europe. 

While refugee advocates in the United States and Europe have celebrated the welcoming response to Ukrainian refugees, some have raised concern that other refugees and forcibly displaced populations do not receive the same treatment. 

“The most striking thing is just the night-and-day contrast between how Ukrainians are being welcomed and how people from the Middle East and Africa were welcomed, or rather, not welcomed,” Serena Parekh, a professor at Northeastern University who studies ethics and the global refugee crisis, told the Toronto Star. 

“I think this is the model for how we should respond to refugees,” she remarked. “The attitude was one of compassion and solidarity, rather than fear and hostility.”

The Vatican has been outspoken about the need to welcome refugees from Ukraine, provide humanitarian aid and stop the bloodshed that is leading to displacement. 

“I think of the millions of Ukrainian refugees who must flee leaving everything behind, and I feel a great pain for those who do not even have the possibility to escape,” Pope Francis said.

“All this is inhuman! Indeed, it is also sacrilegious because it goes against the sacredness of human life, especially against defenseless human life, which must be respected and protected, not eliminated, and this comes before any strategy!” 

The Pope warned against the temptation to grow tired of extending welcome: “As you know, at first we do all we can to welcome everyone, but then we can get used to it, and our hearts cool a bit, and we forget about it.”

FAITH IN ACTION: 

• Visit our page of resources on Ukraine for ways to take action to promote peace, pray, and support refugees: https://bit.ly/3qzFZmX

• Prepare to celebrate World Day of Migrants and Refugees on September 25. Pope Francis has announced that the theme for World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2022 is “Building the Future with Migrants and Refugees.” https://bit.ly/WDMR2022

The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, based in Washington, D.C., is a resource for Maryknoll on matters of peace, social justice and integrity of creation, and brings Maryknoll’s mission experience into U.S. policy discussions. Phone (202) 832-1780, visit www.maryknollogc.org or email ogc@maryknollogc.org.

Featured image: Fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a family crosses the railroad tracks to take a train in Przemysl, Poland, March 3, 2022. (CNS photo/Yara Nardi, Reuters)

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Kathleen Kollman Birch

Kathleen Kollman Birch is communications manager for the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.