Woman describes journey as refugee, as 2.5 million people evacuate Ukraine

The feeling of fleeing home can be universal, but what happens next can be worlds apart.
Published: Mar. 11, 2022 at 10:12 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 11, 2022 at 10:29 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The feeling of fleeing home can be universal, but what happens next can be worlds apart.

2.5 million people have fled from Ukraine, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Friday. Most have stayed in Europe, many in Poland.

“Being a refugee is hard, more trauma. I know refugees, they need help,” Gigi said.

Gigi fled Burundi in 2012 due to persecution. For the safety of her family still there, NBC15 has chosen to keep her identity hidden.

Before resettling in the U.S. in 2018, she spent more than six years at a refugee camp in Malawi. She described meeting other refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and the Congo.

“You have to love each other because that’s your status as refugees,” she said.

But most refugees are not like Gigi. Less than 1 percent of refugees worldwide are resettled, according to Becca Schwartz, resettlement director at Jewish Social Services. The nonprofit is the only refugee resettlement agency in the Madison area.

She explained, persecution is the basis of refugee status, and in the U.S. it must be proved.

“There’s background checks. There’s interviews. There’s proving your persecution, proving why you can’t return to your home country,” Schwartz said.

The process takes time. The shortest case for a client was four years, she said, as some cases take upwards of 20 years.

“It may seem kind of hopeless that there’s not this immediate immigration solution for most people in Ukraine, but I’m hoping that we can support the efforts on the ground to care for Ukrainians in need wherever they are,” she said.

President Biden said Friday at the White House, “I will welcome the Ukrainian refugees. We should welcome them here with open arms if they need access.”

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