By Jarrett Renshaw and Ted Hesson
The United States plans to accept up to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion and is pledging $1 billion in new humanitarian aid, the Biden administration said on Thursday after a month of bombardments touched off Europe’s fastest-moving refugee crisis since the end of World War II.
The announcement coincided with U.S. President Joe Biden’s meeting with European leaders in Brussels to coordinate the Western response to the crisis.
More than 3.5 million people have fled since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, putting a strain on the neighboring European countries receiving them. U.S. lawmakers and advocates have urged Biden to do more to help those seeking refuge in the United States.
A senior Biden official said the administration still expected many Ukrainians to choose to remain in Europe close to their home country but added the U.S. commitment to receive more people would relieve some pressure on European nations currently hosting refugees.
“We recognize that some number of Ukrainians who have fled may wish to come to the United States temporarily,” the official told reporters on the condition of anonymity.
The Biden administration said in a statement it would use “the full range of legal pathways” to bring Ukrainians to the United States, including the U.S. refugee resettlement program.
As part of the effort Ukrainians may enter through existing visa avenues and through a relief program known as “humanitarian parole,” which allows people into the country on an emergency basis, the senior administration official said.
Before the crisis erupted in Ukraine, Biden launched the largest U.S. resettlement effort since the Vietnam War by accepting about 80,000 Afghans after U.S. troops left Afghanistan following 20 years of war.
In contrast to the Afghan evacuation however, the 100,000 Ukrainians would not necessarily be allowed into the United States within the current fiscal year, which stretches until the end of September, the U.S. official said.
In the first two weeks of March, seven Ukrainian refugees resettled in the United States, internal U.S. State Department data seen by Reuters shows, as the war intensified and the number of Ukrainians fleeing skyrocketed.
Eastern European countries, most notably Poland, have received the bulk of people escaping the Russian shelling of cities and towns across Ukraine. Those countries want additional nations to help take in refugees, with the European Union set to discuss “fair burden sharing.”
The United States has allocated billions of dollars in economic aid to fleeing Ukrainians and countries hosting them.
The current effort to allow more Ukrainians into the United States is part of a broader series of aid measures announced by the Biden administration on Thursday, including $1 billion in new funding toward humanitarian assistance to support people still in Ukraine and “those affected by the global impacts of Russia’s war,” which Russia calls a “special military operation.”
The Biden administration will launch a new democracy and human rights program that aims to provide at least $320 million in new funding to defend human rights in Ukraine and neighboring countries.
The program will document and preserve evidence of potential war crimes being committed in Ukraine, the administration said, as part of a broader push “to hold Russia accountable for its actions.”
The United States wants to ensure that women, children, LGBTQ individuals and other potentially vulnerable groups have access to food, clean water, shelter and medical care, the Biden administration official said.