U.S. set to welcome 100,000 Ukrainians amid Russia invasion. Will Utah play a role?

The possibility of Utah welcoming Ukrainian refugees is not a matter of if, but when, Gov. Spencer Cox said last month.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Capitol flies the Ukrainian flag in support of Ukraine, on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022.

As the U.S. prepares to welcome Ukrainians amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Utah leaders are currently in talks about how to help those fleeing the eastern European country.

“I think we’re still unclear [about] what that means [for Utah],” said Asha Parekh, director of the state’s refugee services office. “I think with this ... announcement, the U.S. is signaling a way in which we can also be involved and support Ukrainians here.”

The Biden administration on Thursday announced plans to welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. U.S. officials also pledged to provide $1 billion in aid to Ukraine.

Parekh said she spoke to state coordinators on Thursday morning to discuss how the refugee resettlement could impact Utah.

Under 2,000 Ukrainian nationals currently live in Utah, Parekh estimates. If Ukrainians refugees were to resettle in Utah, Parekh said, finding sufficient homes for refugees could be a challenge due to the state’s ongoing housing shortage.

“I think our capacity is much smaller in what we can handle,” she said. “The cost of housing here — available, affordable housing — is an issue and so I think all of those pieces will factor into what happens and what final numbers will look like.”

The possibility of Utah welcoming Ukrainian refugees is not a matter of if, but when, Gov. Spencer Cox has said.

This month, during a March news conference at PBS Utah, Cox said the state was in talks with the U.S. Department of State to allow Utah to welcome Ukrainian refugees.

“The world needs to open their doors to these refugees and Utah’s doors are wide-open,” said the Republican governor, adding that he didn’t expect countries bordering Ukraine to take the brunt of the refugee crisis.

So far, more than 3.6 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have fled their homeland, according to figures from the United Nations.

Parekh said the state has taken a bipartisan approach when it comes to welcoming refugees. Last summer, as Taliban fighters took control over Afghanistan, approximately 60,000 Afghan immigrants arrived in the U.S. to seek safety. Of the 60,000, approximately 900 Afghan arrivals were relocated to Utah in what Cox called the largest resettlement in state history.

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