MISSOULA - Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and attack on civilian infrastructure has displaced an estimated 10 million people, and more than 3.5 million have been forced to flee the country.
As the humanitarian crisis builds, President Joe Biden this week placed a new wave of sanctions on Russia and pledged to welcome up to 100,000 refugees into the U.S. Some of them are expected to land in Missoula in the coming weeks and months.
Eamon Fahey, deputy director of the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) office in Missoula, said they’re ready to get to work.
“It likely means we’re going to be welcoming some Ukrainians to the community, and a lot sooner than I had expected,” Fahey said. “I certainly thought we’d see some folks displaced by the conflict over there, but this just means it’s going to happen sooner than expected. This is becoming very local. We’re going to be helping place displaced people from that conflict in our community.”
The war in Ukraine has captured the plight of people displaced by war, and the incoming Ukrainians won’t be the first to arrive in Missoula under such circumstances.
Since September, Fahey said, the U.S. has resettled 80,000 vetted Afghan nationals and allies who fled during the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. The mass evacuation that unfolded last summer was the largest airlift of non-combatants in military history.
“In Montana and in our office, we’ve resettled 100 Afghans from the end of September through mid-February, and since January, we continue to receive refugees from Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria,” said Fahey. “We look forward to and are prepared to welcome folks displaced by the conflict in Ukraine.”
As of this week, Fahey said no other details were available, though with the president’s announcement on Thursday, he expects those details to become clear in the coming days and weeks.
Members of the International Rescue Committee are already working in Moldova and Poland, which together have taken millions of refugees into their countries. Fahey said the resettlement effort will soon reach Missoula.
“Seven months ago in late August, the Afghan crisis was front-page news, and that really opened folks’ eyes and hearts to the importance of bringing people in harm’s way to resettle in a new life and help them find safety,” Fahey said. “While the circumstances are different, this will be a continuation of that. This brings the work we do here in Missoula to the forefront, and front of mind for everyone.”
The resettlement effort announced on Thursday will also come with $1 billion in humanitarian assistance. The funding will go to provide food, shelter, water and medical supplies to people “affected by Russia’s war in Ukraine and its severe impacts around the world.”
While the funds go a long ways in helping the IRC complete its mission, Fahey said it doesn’t cover all the costs. The U.S. has hesitated to play a military role in Ukraine, though Americans can help by offering humanitarian assistance.
“Ultimately, our biggest challenge when we do the work we do of resettlement is always housing,” Fahey said. “At this point, the biggest way people can help is frankly financial contributions. That helps in every way. It helps when we have to pay for temporary stays or long-term housing. It helps us acquire all the things we need for resettlement work, from food to clothing.”
To help the International Rescue Committee’s resettlement efforts in Missoula, you can contribute by following this link.
To help the International Rescue Committee’s global resettlement program, you can contribute by following this link.