Pictures of women and children fleeing Ukraine on buses and trains, apartment buildings reduced to rubble, children smashing their hands against train windows to meet their father’s hands on the other side, mothers struggling to hold onto children and men escorting the elderly pass overturned vehicles were the images that confronted attendees at an American Bar Association webinar, “Ukraine’s Refugee Crisis: The Faces of War.”
The webinar was held to address the growing crisis in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion of the country.
Richard Pena, vice chair of the Rights of Immigrants Committee of the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice, the webinar’s lead sponsor, said it was pulled together quickly so people would “know the truth” about the rapidly deteriorating crisis in Ukraine and in neighboring countries.
U.S. lawyers and Ukrainian lawyers and bar leaders, representatives from humanitarian groups and a national security expert discussed the escalating needs of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians, as well as the millions of refugees scattered to neighboring countries and around the world.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine six weeks ago, about 4.2 million people have fled the country, making it the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, Pena said.
“Lawyers believe not in the rule of force, but in the rule of law. We believe that human rights are the bedrock of life and liberty,” said ABA President Reginald Turner in opening remarks. “Our stake in the rule of law compels us to denounce the Russian invasion and dedicate our support to international institutions that promote peace and security.”
Representatives of humanitarian organizations said the refugees need cash to help with immediate needs, such as food and lodging, in addition to mental health.
Smita Dazzo, senior director of Legal and Asylum at HIAS, which has partnered with groups in various countries to help deliver services, said many of the refugees are experiencing major trauma.
Legal assistance also is needed. Dazzo said she does not expect many to apply for asylum in the U.S. because most want to return to Ukraine once it is safe. She added that many Ukrainians are coming in through the U.S. southern border and are being allowed in through humanitarian parole, but that is temporary. Long-term solutions are needed, she said.
She urged more lawyers to take up refugee and asylum work, saying her organization “will hold your hand in these cases until you feel confident enough to do it yourself.”
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