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Utah not expected to take in influx of Ukrainian refugees

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SALT LAKE CITY — The State of Utah Refugee Services Office met with the federal government Tuesday afternoon, asking if Utah needs to prepare for incoming Ukrainian refugees.

The question comes on the tails of welcoming in hundreds of humanitarian parolees from Afghanistan last fall, which included coordinating resources and setting those individuals and families up for success.

Asha Parekh, director of the Refugee Services Office within the Department of Workforce Services, explained that they've been following the situation in Ukraine closely.

"This was a question, right, that all of us had, as to what's going on? How is this going to work? Should we be amping up? Or is it more of a long-term issue?

During Tuesday's meeting between refugee services offices around the country and the U.S. Department of Human Services Population, Refugee, and Migration office, Parekh indicated that they got an answer.

"The U.S. just doesn't have any immediate plans to resettle Ukrainians at this time," she said.

Last fall, Parekh helped a state task force work with several community organizations to coordinate resources for those fleeing Afghanistan — from employment to financial aid, to healthcare access, to goods and housing.

But that situation was different, Parekh said.

"The U.S. was part of that occupation in Afghanistan, and those folks who had been working closely with the U.S. Army were in danger," Parekh explained. "And so, they took things into their own hands."

The nearly 800 Afghan refugees who ended up in Utah, Parekh relayed, will need to apply for asylum by September 2023 because their humanitarian parolee status is only temporary.

With no boots on the ground in Ukraine, that means no evacuation to the U.S. for Ukrainians.

Parekh pointed out that neighboring countries are currently taking in Ukrainian refugees, and people escaping the war can resettle in those places.

If anyone does ultimately hope to make it to the U.S., she described how they'll follow the same process as everyone else.

"There's a process for all refugees as they get moved through the system, and it is a lengthy two-year vetting process," Parekh said.

With countries like Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Moldova allowing Ukrainians to resettle there, Parekh noted that it's more ideal for refugees to get support in those places.

Especially if that resettlement is temporary.

"We don't know what's going to happen in Ukraine," she said. "There's the potential that they may be able to return home."

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Lauren Steinbrecher
Lauren Steinbrecher is an Emmy award-winning reporter and multimedia journalist who joined KSL in December 2021.


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