As millions of Ukrainians flee the war, family reunification and resettlement efforts are underway here

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Refugees wait for a transport after fleeing the war in Ukraine at a railway station in Przemysl, Poland on Thursday, March 24, 2022. (Sergei Grits/AP)
Refugees wait for a transport after fleeing the war in Ukraine at a railway station in Przemysl, Poland on Thursday, March 24, 2022. (Sergei Grits/AP)

Millions of people have been displaced by the Russian war in Ukraine.

As they flee, parents and children are being separated. Now, the U.S. is preparing for the arrival of 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, and it may take years to reunite these families.

WBUR's Morning Edition host Rupa Shenoy speaks with Sasha Chanoff, founder of Cambridge-based humanitarian organization RefugePoint, on how refugee resettlement and family reunification efforts will be a challenge for years to come.

Highlights from this interview have been lightly edited for clarity.

Interview Highlights

On the wartime displacement and family reunification efforts:

"This is certainly unique because all the men have been conscripted to fight and they're staying there — who are between the ages of 18 and 60 --  and so in my 25 year experience working to resettle refugees from around the world to the U.S. and other countries, I've never seen a situation where so many families are displaced.

"The administration is going to explore many different options to bring people here that might include through the traditional resettlement program; there are also avenues for family reunion opportunities. But I think what's key to this is that this is done in an expeditious manner so that people can get here, can escape their circumstances and have some sense of safety and security and a pathway to some sort of future if this conflict doesn't end."

On the difference in how Ukrainian refugees are being treated: 

"It is so imperative that as the U.S. rebuilds the resettlement program from four years of famine during the previous administration that we look equitably around the world and consider that there are Congolese, there are Syrians, there are Rohingya refugees who fled genocide that need resettlement equally. So as we build our new resettlement program, and as we look to support Ukrainians, we can't overlook those who are in extreme and desperate circumstances around the world."

On the barriers to family reunification:

"There are a number of barriers. I mean, in the U.S., it takes approximately two years on average, if you look historically, for families to reunite. We need to be able to respond quickly to emergencies like Afghanistan, Ukraine and others that will emerge. So while we build our traditional resettlement program, we need to have different mechanisms to bring people in quickly when that's needed.

"Housing is a huge barrier. It's expensive. It's hard to find. We're looking at really innovative options to do that. Airbnb has stepped up in really extraordinary ways to provide temporary housing for people ... while the sponsors and resettlement agencies that are assisting people look for more permanent housing."

On what this means for Massachusetts residents and what to do to help:

"...Massachusetts has a robust resettlement program. We've brought in over a thousand Afghan refugees to Massachusetts, and at some point I believe Ukrainians will be coming here as well, certainly.

"I would advise people to go to Welcome.US, which is a new effort that was geared toward supporting Afghans, but now is expanding to support refugees from around the world, including Ukrainians. I would not just look at this as a responsibility, but a real opportunity.

"Ideally, though, this war will end. Ukrainians can go home and there can be some sort of Marshall Plan to rebuild Ukraine. However, if we look at history and other conflicts, we see that they can go on for decades. So we have to consider alternate options if this war doesn't end quickly."

This segment aired on March 28, 2022.


Headshot of Rupa Shenoy

Rupa Shenoy Morning Edition Host
Rupa Shenoy hosts WBUR's Morning Edition.


Headshot of Hafsa Quraishi

Hafsa Quraishi Associate Producer, Here & Now
Hafsa Quraishi is an associate producer for Here & Now.



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