New Jersey is open, but Ukrainian refugees likely to stay in Europe

N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy has put out the welcome mat for Ukrainian refugees, but the White House says most refugees have expressed a desire to stay in Europe.

A Moldovan volunteer distributes food to refugees who are leaving to Romania after fleeing from Ukraine, at the border crossing in Palanca, Moldova, Thursday, March 17, 2022

A Moldovan volunteer distributes food to refugees who are leaving to Romania after fleeing from Ukraine, at the border crossing in Palanca, Moldova, Thursday, March 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

While New Jersey is ready to welcome Ukrainian refugees, should they need a place to go, it’s likely that will not happen. At least for now.

The White House expects most displaced Ukrainians will want to stay in neighboring countries in Europe. As of Tuesday, three million people have fled Ukraine to escape Russia’s invasion, according to Filippo Grandi, the high commissioner for refugees for the United Nations.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has offered his unwavering support for Ukraine. His administration has established a website as a portal to find organizations helping on the humanitarian front.

The governor also informed the Biden administration that the state stands ready to welcome any refugees that need a place to resettle.

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But Dr. Barbara Franz, political science professor at Rider University, believes many Ukrainians who have left their country “don’t understand themselves as refugees.”

“They are escaping a war right now,” she said. “They are very probably grateful that the European member states have agreed to provide them with the right to live there and to work in the bloc to receive social welfare and an education.”

She suggests that many are waiting for Russian forces to leave so they can return and  rebuild their country.

“I think in the long run or in the medium run, even they expect to go back,” she said, “because the war will hopefully be over soon.”

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In the previous refugee crisis involving Afghanistan, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington County was one of several bases involved in hosting refugees as American troops withdrew from the middle eastern country. It welcomed the first group of Afghan refugees in August, as part of Operation Allies Welcome. At its peak, MDL hosted as many as 14,500 people. The last group of refugees left in February.

Franz noted that the Afghanistan crisis is different from the current one in Europe.

“We were there for 20 years,” she said. “There is a very, very different relationship between many Afghans and American soldiers.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this month that the vast majority of Ukrainians expressed an interest in going to neighboring countries in Europe. While the Biden Administration remains open to welcoming refugees, she said it is focused on being the largest provider of humanitarian aid.

Franz said that New Jersey should remain open to welcoming refugees should Russia’s invasion continue to lag. She praised how welcoming the Garden State was during Operation Allies Welcome.

“I [had] been blown away by the reaction that New Jersey [non-governmental organizations] and other humanitarian organizations had when the Afghanis came over,” she said. “[It] was fabulous, what we have seen the New Jerseyans have done with helping Afghanis resettle in the region.”

For now, she said New Jerseyans should continue to stand in solidarity with Ukraine, “through peace rallies, through flying the Ukrainian flag and similar symbolic acts.”

“We also should help humanitarian organizations that collect donations for the Ukrainian struggle,” she added, offering the International Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders as examples.

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