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'Everything is ruined': Ukrainian refugee shows pictures of their destroyed home
04:02 - Source: CNN

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CNN  — 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has uprooted people on a speed and scale not seen since World War II, according to the International Rescue Committee, a global humanitarian aid group.

More than 3.6 million Ukrainians have fled the country, according to statistics from the United Nations, with more than 2 million going to Poland.

Half of all Ukrainian children have been displaced since Russia’s attack began on February 24.

“It’s mind-boggling,” UNICEF spokesperson James Elder told CNN. “Since the start of the war a month ago, out of every boy and girl in the country, 1 out of 2 now has had to flee their homes.”

US promises to bring in more Ukrainians

President Joe Biden joined an emergency meeting of European allies with a promise that the US would accept up to 100,000 Ukrainians displaced by Russia’s attack on their country.

It’s a large commitment by the US. The last time it accepted 100,000 refugees in a single year was in the mid-1990s.

RELATED: Why the US has allowed so few refugees

Even before the war in Ukraine, Biden had pledged to open American arms to refugees by increasing the annual cap on refugee resettlements to 125,000 – although, largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of refugees actually entering the US has fallen, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

US refugee admissions reached a 40-year low in fiscal year 2021.

How will 100,000 Ukrainians be admitted? Stay tuned

Many questions remain about the pledge to bring 100,000 displaced Ukrainians to the US, and the White House does not plan to raise the cap of 125,000 refugees for the 2022 fiscal year.

Not all of the Ukrainians are likely to be classified as refugees, according to CNN’s report, in which a senior administration official says that in addition to refugee admissions, Ukrainians could be allowed in through parole and immigrant and non-immigrant visas.

Parole, by the way, has nothing to do with prison in this case; it is a special process by which people are temporarily allowed in the country for urgent humanitarian reasons. Most of the 76,000-plus Afghans who fled to the US when the Taliban took control of their country and the US pulled out its troops were paroled into the US. They have since been given Temporary Protected Status.

84 million displaced people, 26.6 million refugees

While the Russian attack of Ukraine and the unexpected flood of refugees has shocked the global community, the worldwide problem of displaced people is not new.

There are more than 84 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes because of political unrest, natural disasters or economic opportunities as of the middle of 2021, according to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

Most of these people are displaced within their own countries. But more than 26.6 million of these are refugees who have fled their native countries, usually to nations nearby.

Most of these refugees were from just five countries: Afghanistan, Myanmar, South Sudan, Syria and Venezuela.

Syria, Venezuela and now Ukraine

Looking at the UNHCR data from prior to the Russian attack on Ukraine, two countries accounted for the most refugees: Syria (6.8 million refugees), which has been decimated by war for more than a decade, and Venezuela (4.1 million refugees), with its authoritarian government and economic distress. In both cases, the crises built over years.

One thing that ties these countries together is political unrest and authoritarianism.

“The decline of democracy, the rise of authoritarianism has led to greater numbers of refugees in the world,” Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, told me over the phone this week.

Freedom House gets most of its funding from the US government and pushes democracy around the world. It issues a report each year giving countries democracy scores. The number of countries with declining scores has outnumbered those with gains for 16 years.

“The migration and refugee crisis that has so preoccupied many democracies is an outgrowth of the authoritarian expansion of the past 16 years,” Freedom House argued in its February 2022 report.

Not simply a choice to leave

CNN’s reports on the situation inside Ukraine are of towns dangerously low on food and subsisting entirely on international aid.

The response to the Ukraine crisis has been as swift and massive as the refugee crisis itself. That has not always been the case for other countries.

Selectively welcomed

CNN’s Arwa Damon wrote recently for CNN Opinion comparing her experience covering the situation in Ukraine with what had happened in Syria in 2015, when the Russian military was active in that country.

“We are painfully seeing that refugees are selectively welcomed, and war criminals are selectively punished. It’s not just the Western media that is biased; it’s the Western world,” Damon wrote.

“As a journalist, I often ask myself: Did I somehow fail back then? How could I have told those refugee stories to make the world care? I have carried that guilt with me for years, still even today. Because surely, there should have been a way to show the Western world – the same world now standing with Ukrainians – that the Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and others who took this same path through Europe are just like them.”