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Markey: US must ‘roll out the welcome mat’ to Ukrainian refugees, lift cap on those escaping war

US Senate Edward Markey spoke to the media during a press conference at the JFK Federal Building in Boston on March 5.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

US Senator Edward Markey, appearing at a weekend press conference, urged the United States to lift its cap on refugees from Ukraine as millions of people flee a devastating war started by Russia’s unprovoked invasion.

Markey spoke to reporters Saturday in Boston following a diplomatic trip to Poland and Belgium with other US lawmakers. During the trip, he met with US diplomats, military leaders, and troops, as well as leaders of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, according to a statement.

Since the war began in late February, Poland and other countries in eastern Europe have been grappling with an influx of 5 million refugees from Ukraine.

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The former Soviet satellite, which has been an independent nation for more than 30 years, has greatly slowed Russia’s advances with the help of substantial materiel assistance from the United States and its allies.

The war has killed thousands, and devastated many areas of Ukraine, while sweeping economic sanctions against Russia have not yet compelled President Vladimir Putin to recall his forces.

At the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in Boston Saturday, Markey said the United States must step up and do more to offer refuge to Ukrainians.

“I think that we should lift the cap on refugees coming, not just in Massachusetts, but any part of the United States,” Markey told reporters. “I think that we have to roll out the welcome mat to these families and do whatever it takes to finance their arrival into our country and to allow them to stay here as long as they want.”

Markey’s comments followed an announcement from the Biden administration Thursday that the United States would streamline refugee applications for Ukrainians — while also closing an informal entry point for the refugees coming into the United States over the border with Mexico.

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US officials have reported that they expect to admit up to 100,000 refugees from Ukraine, according to the Associated Press. About 15,000 have arrived in the United States since the invasion began Feb. 24, many of whom came through Mexico.

But beginning Monday, they will not be able to do so, except under extreme circumstances, the AP reported.

Instead, a new US program called “Uniting for Ukraine” will allow people to be admitted to the United States if they meet specific requirements. Applicants need to have been living in Ukraine as of Feb. 11, pass background checks, and meet vaccination and other public health measures, officials have said. Those who are admitted will receive two years of residence, and permission to work in the United States.

Markey also said the United States should provide similar services for refugees fleeing other countries.

“I don’t think there should be any limit... placed on these refugees. And by the way, I feel the same way about refugees coming in from Afghanistan from other countries in the world,” Markey said.

Markey praised the efforts of Poland and other European countries that have accepted Ukrainian refugees as “a testament to our shared humanity.”

He said the United States must continue to support Ukraine and prevent a Russian victory in Eastern Europe.

“We have to support them for as long as it takes so that Putin ultimately loses,” Markey said.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.