KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the United Nations said more than 3.5 million Ukrainian refugees have fled their home country. But, so far, the U.S. has seen very few of those refugees.
Federal officials said they are preparing to unveil a plan to welcome Ukrainian refugees to the U.S. According to NBC sources, that plan could be revealed as early as this week.
The plan would allow vulnerable Ukrainians to take shelter in the states. Some members of this vulnerable population would include activists, journalists and members of the LGBTQ+ community. The plan would also hasten the reunification process for Ukrainians who have family members based in the U.S.
The news has refugee service organizations of all kinds preparing for a possible influx of refugees.
Drocella Mugorewera is the Executive Director of Bridge Refugee Services in Knoxville. She said the organization has not received word of whether or not they will be taking in Ukrainian refugees.
"The way the system works is, the federal government works with the national agencies, and our affiliation is to Episcopal Migration Ministries," Mugorewera said.
EMM works to place refugees in smaller, affiliate partner agencies across the U.S. Mugorewera is preparing for the possibility of accepting Ukrainian refugees.
"They will ask us about the capacity we have. As a community, let us be proactive," Mugorewera said.
In preparation, Bridge Refugee Services is onboarding volunteers, raising money, and accepting donations. They are constantly looking for people to volunteer as interpreters, community guides, drivers and event planners.
"We have a room for everybody who has an open heart and open mind to help refugees," Mugorewera said.
When the organization does take on Ukrainian refugees, the plan is to pair the refugee family with a community assistance team. This team can help with everything from grocery shopping, furnishing, and cooking to transportation assistance, English conversational skills and act as community guides.
"Community Assistance Teams can help them navigate the system for 6 months, and then they can move on to another family and can continue build relationships," Mugorewera said.
However, there's one big hurdle to taking on more refugees in Knoxville — the housing market.
"The biggest challenge for the U.S. as a whole, not only Knoxville, is housing. The biggest challenge is housing," Mugorewera said.
In order for refugees to come, there has to be a place for them to live. Additionally, that housing has to be affordable.
"The prices of housing keep increasing and increasing," Mugorewera said. "And at the same time, the numbers and the crisis of refugees just keeps worsening and worsening."
If you are interested in donating money, items or personal time, as a volunteer with Bridge Refugee Services, you can explore those opportunities on the Bridge Website.