Jul 22, 2022 - News

Utah is struggling to reach newly arrived Ukrainian refugees

Illustration of an old suitcase with a white dove sticker on it.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Utah is struggling to track and reach Ukrainian refugees who have recently arrived, according to Asha Parekh, director of the Utah Refugee Services Office.

Catch up fast: After Russia's invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, President Biden announced the U.S. would welcome 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing their country.

  • In April, a federal program called Uniting for Ukraine was announced. It allows Americans to apply to sponsor individuals fleeing the country.
  • Parekh said her office has connected to and helped nearly 50 refugees and sponsors so far.

What they're saying: "We, as a state, are not notified who the sponsors are so we don't have, like, information on an individual level," Parekh told Axios Salt Lake City. "It's very difficult because we're not able to reach out to sponsors to find out … how much support they need."

  • Parekh said her office can connect asylum seekers to health screenings, work authorization applications, refugee cash assistance, and English-as-a-second-language training.

Aden Batar, director of migration and refugee services for Catholic Community Services of Utah, said the organization provides similar services and has served about 30 refugees.

  • "Many of the sponsors, they don't know what to do when people arrive," Batar said, regarding employment assistance, immigration services, and enrolling children in schools. "That's why our agency will step in and provide the services that they need."
  • It's why Parekh and Batar are asking sponsors and refugees to approach them for assistance.

Meanwhile, Parekh said Utah has not yet received federal funding meant to help support refugees and their sponsors.

  • She said when it comes, a portion of that funding will help the state hire an outreach coordinator to support refugees and sponsors.

Background: The UN estimates that about 9.5 million Ukrainians have fled the nation since February.

Flashback: Utah recently handled its largest refugee resettlement in state history with about 900 Afghan arrivals.

The latest: As of July 20, the state is aware of 115 Ukrainian refugees in Utah, said Christina Davis, a communications director for the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

What's next: It's projected that Utah will welcome a little over 300 Ukrainian refugees to the state this fiscal year, Parekh said.

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