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By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Ukrainian refugees crossing into Poland; Creative Commons image via Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs

March 29, 2022 (San Diego) – San Diego County Supervisors have issued statements preparing to welcome Ukrainian refugees, following President Joe Biden’s announcement that the U.S. will admit up to 100,000 refugees from Ukraine displaced by the Russian invasion. 

Nathan Fletcher, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, issued a statement which reads in part, “Our county has time and again stepped up to help refugees and this time is no different. Together with Los Angeles and Sacramento, we are the largest metropolitan regions in California expected to accept these refugees.”

Fletcher added that the County has also begun helping Ukrainian refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border.

San Diego has a long tradition of taking in refugees, from southeast Asians after the Vietnam War to Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban. The region has numerous refugees from Iraq and other Mideast nations, as well as refugees from Africa, Central America and other places.

Fletcher added that the County stands “ready to continue to work with our Resettlement Agency partners” to welcome Ukrainian refugees.  Those agencies are the International Rescue Committee, Jewish Family Services, Catholic Charities, and the Alliance for African Assistance. 

All refugees will receive health services and screenings shortly after arrival, as well as referrals to benefits including Cal Fresh for food, cash assistance from CalWORKS, help to find jobs and learn English.

It's unknown how many Ukrainian refugees will wind up in our region, or in East County. However due to more affordable housing in our inland region, East County has become one of the region's hubs for refugee relocations in recent years.

Supervisor Joel Anderson has sent a letter to President Joe Biden requesting federal  aid to counties proportional to how many refugees each county receives,

“As the number of people fleeing Ukraine continues to increase, coupled with your recent decision to admit 100,000 refugees into the U.S., the citizens of San Diego are once again willing to welcome the displaced with open arms,” Anderson wrote. “However, to do so successfully will require additional funding from the administration to support this population.”

Anderson proposed that frozen Russian assets be used to fund refugee resettlement in the U.S., just as he previously proposed that frozen Afghanistan assets be utilized to support Afghan refugees resettling here.

Anderson also voiced concerns over the prospect of the Biden administration rolling back Title 42 orders which allow the U.S. to expel some asylum seekers and refugees due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Anderson suggested this would increase the number of asylum seekers crossing the border, which he fears would “burden the already overwhelmed resettlement agencies and community organizations working to welcome both immigrants and refugees into our nation.”

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued guidance reminding Border authorities that Ukrainians and “everyone else” providing “credible fear” claims at the U.S.-Mexico border are exempt form Title 42. Mayorkas added that efforts are underway “to provide humanitarian relief for individuals fleeing war-torn Ukraine. We are looking at other programs that we can implement to expand the avenues of humanitarian relief.”

Mayorkas’ actions came after DHS received criticisms that Ukrainian migrants were being dealt with haphazardly at the border, with some checkpoints turning them away, but others allowing them entry into the U.S. to await asylum hearings.

However, some contend that Ukrainians have received special treatment, more favorable than that accorded Central American migrants who have also fled violence and persecution.

“It’s racism. Plain racism,” a Haitian migrant who has been waiting in Tijuana for months told  Some would-be asylum seekers, including many from Central America, have been waiting there for years.

A growing number of both Ukrainian and Russian asylum seekers have begun turning up at the U.S. Mexico border, with more likely in the future. These are separate from refugees who fled to Poland or other European nations, going through formal refugee resettlement channels.

Mexico does not require visas for Ukrainians, and over 10,000 have visited Mexico as tourists in the first two months of this year as war with Russia loomed – far more than the annual average of 4,000, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Moreover, over 30,000 Russians have arrived in Mexico in the first two months of 2022, 2.5 times higher than the yearly average in recent years.

But the Wall Street Journal reported Friday that more Russian migrants have been turned away at the border in recent days, told to wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed, despite dangers facing migrants in Mexico ranging from theft to unsanitary conditions to human trafficking risks. reported yesterday that a group of 35 Russian asylum seekers were admitted March 20th to the U.S. from Mexico following a secret deal with Mexican authorities, which describes the asylum system at the border as “one of arbitrary special exemptions and backdoor deals.”  Those admitted reportedly included a pregnant woman with a history of miscarriages who had been forced to sleep on a concrete sidewalk on donated folding chairs and blankets.

Another Russian refugee, a Moscow teacher who said she fled Russia after she was arrested for protesting the war, told Vice, “It’s like Russian roulette. It’s completely unpredictable…You reach the border, but you don’t know if the immigrant officer will let you through. Then, when you cross, you are detained, but you don’t know for how long or why.”

Individual migrants including Ukrainians and Russians are treated differently than families, with individuals being placed in detention facilities once in the U.S., while they await their asylum hearings. Ironically, some Russians and Ukrainians have shared cells in detention, reports.

Meanwhile some groups are gearing up to help the newly arriving refugees.

The Church of Music in La Jolla has helped some 15 Ukrainian refugees who crossed the border.  KGTV reports that one family received an immigration attorney, a translator  a ride to the border and food provided by the Church of Music, as well as help to find long-term lodging after Jewish Family Services arranged for a motel stay for the first few days.

“One of our missions is to leave the world better than we found it, to give back. We helped with Afghan refugees and Syrian refugees as well,” Alina Gordon told KGTV. A member of the church of Music, she is also a native of Ukraine. The church has started a GoFundMe site to help the refugees.

More ways to help the refugees

Donations can be made to the four recognized refugee resettlement agencies locally:

International Rescue Committee

Catholic Charities

Jewish Family Services

Alliance for African Assistance

At the international level:

International Relief Teams, based in San Diego, is helping to provide food, water, shelter and other necessities to Ukrainian refugees who have fled to Poland.

GlobalGiving, a crowdfunding platform, currently has a Ukrainian crisis relief fund working to provide food, water, shelter, and other assistance to refugees.

Direct Relief is working to fulfill a list of medical needs given to them by Ukraine’s health ministry.

Doctors Without Borders currently has teams in Ukraine and is working to send staff and medical supplies to the hardest-hit areas.




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