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Iowa's refugee resettlement agencies prepare for Ukrainian refugees' likely arrival

Ukrainian refugees walk along vehicles lining-up to cross the border from Ukraine into Moldova, at Mayaky-Udobne crossing border point near Mayaky-Udobne, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. The U.N. refugee agency says nearly 120,000 people have so far fled Ukraine into neighboring countries in the wake of the Russian invasion. The number was going up fast as Ukrainians grabbed their belongings and rushed to escape from a deadly Russian onslaught.
Sergei Grits
Ukrainian refugees walk along vehicles lining-up to cross the border from Ukraine into Moldova, at Mayaky-Udobne crossing border point near Mayaky-Udobne, Ukraine, in February.

Iowa’s refugee resettlement agencies are expecting at least some Ukrainian refugees after President Joe Biden announced the country would accept up to 100,000.

As of now, it’s unclear how many will come to Iowa, but resettlement agencies are already expecting some challenges. Kerri True-Funk, the director of the Des Moines field office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), said finding permanent housing for Ukrainian refugees could be difficult.

USCRI is currently still working on finding permanent housing for some Afghan refugee families. True-Funk said USCRI is still actively serving about 1,000 at this point, with most individuals and small families in permanent homes. But it's the larger families that are still in need.

The average household in Afghanistan has been recorded at about 6.2 people, whereas the average household size in Ukraine is much smaller at around 2.5 people.

“We're hopefully getting to get more information about what's going on with the situation in Ukraine and what's happening with either refugee processing or other pathways for arrival in the U.S., and then we'll have a better kind of grasp on what our ongoing needs will look like," True-Funk explained.

She doesn't expect it to be a large influx, like refugees from Afghanistan, but more measured and stable, with the hopes that they won't have to rely on temporary housing at all. She detailed this is a better situation for refugees when considering school enrollment, work location and overall stability.

"Our job is to support people whose lives have been in constant flux. So if we can't figure out how to roll with it...I don't know who would," True-Funk said.

The U.S. government has said Ukrainian refugees and others displaced by the war may be accepted into the country through a variety of programs that is, the parolee program and/or immigrant and non-immigrant visas.

Even though finding enough housing may be difficult at the moment, she said Iowans are already showing their support through offering to volunteer and through offering translation services.

"Similar to when people from Afghanistan were being evacuated, people wanted them to come here. And I think it will be a very similar situation for Ukrainian people," she said.

Iowa is home to a few large Ukrainian communities, many in rural Iowa, and True-Funk has already begun hearing from them, offering any help they can. True-Funk said they are always in need of volunteers, especially those who can help with the physical moving side of resettlement.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines