(COLUMBUS, Ohio)—Ohio Governor Mike DeWine today opened the Ohio Summit on Ukrainian Refugees at St. Vladimir Grand Hall in Parma. Hosted by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), the event brought together various organizations to ensure Ohio is ready to help, should it be asked to accept Ukrainian refugees.
“We are gathered today because we are concerned about the people of Ukraine. We are concerned about families who have been forced out of their homes, their neighborhoods, and their country because of the unprovoked, brutal invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin and his military,” said Governor DeWine. “But we are here to get started, to plan, to get ready, and to brainstorm so we are prepared if, as a state, we are asked to help support those families.”
More than 110 people attended, representing at least 60 organizations, including resettlement agencies, faith-based organizations, charities, and others with an interest in the well-being of Ukrainians. They heard presentations from federal and state officials, as well as panel discussions regarding the resettlement process, and the refugee experience. The day ended with a networking session that allowed community organizations to ask questions and exchange ideas with others wanting to help displaced individuals.
“None of us know if, or when, we might be called upon to provide assistance,” said ODJFS Director Matt Damschroder. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared so Ohio can be the most effective in helping any potential refugees. This is the perfect time and opportunity to bring together the many organizations that could play a role in the relocation of Ukrainian families.”
Speakers included Jennifer Johnson, State Refugee Coordinator for ODJFS, who provided background on the resettlement process. Johnson noted that there are many ways individuals may end up in the United States, and that the summit would help Ohio more quickly pivot to meet the specific needs of whatever situation might occur.
In the first panel session, representative from US Together, Inc., Cleveland Catholic Charities, and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) provided details on the resettlement process including areas such as housing, employment, and preparing arrivals for cultural differences. Underlying the discussion was better understanding those needs so attendees might consider ways they can assist.
The second panel turned the discussion from processes to people, with stories from a Bakht Zaman Moqbel, a recent arrival from Afghanistan serving as a case manager for USCRI, Marta Kelleher, president of the United Ukrainian Organizations of Ohio, who just returned from delivering supplies to Poland, and Joe Cimperman, president of Global Cleveland, who reminded participants not only how communities can help refugees, but what refugees give back to the community.
The day ended with agreement that it could be some time before the exact needs of those fleeing Ukraine are known, but that there are numerous organizations willing to work together to address those needs.
A recording of the summit can be found at http://ohiochannel.org.
Additional information on refugees in Ohio
There are multiple paths that can lead a refugee to the United States, including via refugee status, various visa options, and those programs based on humanitarian or religious needs. While these are all federal programs, the ODJFS Refugee Services Program works with local resettlement agencies to provide the federal government with information on capacity. It also oversees programs that help refugees achieve economic self-sufficiency and social adjustment following their arrival in the U.S. Actual services are provided by nine resettlement agencies and other non-profit agencies located throughout Ohio. Depending on the type of placement additional services may be available through the State of Ohio.
Since 2018, more than 500 Ukrainians have been resettled in Ohio, mostly in Cleveland. Many were resettled due to the Lautenberg Amendment, a federal program established in 1990 that allows religious minorities from the former Soviet Union to seek refuge in the United States. More than 14,000 Ukrainian nationals have been resettled in the U.S. under the Amendment in the past five years.