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International Institute Of New England President Speaks On Plans To Help Ukrainian Refugees In Massachusetts

BOSTON (CBS) -- More than three million Ukrainians have fled their war-torn country since Russia waged war on their neighbor.

President Joe Biden said the U.S. will accept as many as 100,000 refugees, with some coming to Massachusetts.

WBZ-TV's Anna Meiler spoke with Jeffrey Thielman, the President and CEO of the International Institute of New England. Their organization is preparing to help people fleeing Ukraine resettle in Massachusetts.

Anna Meiler: What have you been seeing and hearing so far, and what services are you able to offer them?

Jeffrey Thielman: Our organization is starting to see people from Ukraine knock on our doors, looking for our assistance. We have had some people who have left eastern Ukraine visit in the past several weeks. There are folks who are often on tourist visas. Some people have green cards that have come to see us, and we've actually had some people admitted who have been admitted on a humanitarian parole basis. So our staff, when a Ukrainian  family or a Ukrainian individual comes to our office does an intake, tries to get a sense of what services they need, and then we try to help them.

A lot of what we are seeing are for people who are not eligible yet for public benefits based on their immigration status. So if you have a visitor visa or even a humanitarian parole visa right now, you're not eligible for public benefits. But there are other ways we can assist people, and often we are connecting them with an immigration legal services staff.

Meiler: The Massachusetts legislature recently approved $10 million to assist refugees in Ukraine. How will this money be used to help them?

Thielman: The money, so we understand it, is being used to help refugees in Ukraine, as well as people from other countries. So we are very pleased with the efforts by the state legislature. Our understanding is that had bipartisan support, including support from Governor [Charlie] Baker, and so we are grateful for the state's leadership on that. The state of Massachusetts, by the way, is one of the few states in the nation that provides state funds to help refugees, and so that's a kudos to our leadership from the Governor on down through the entire legislature.

We're going to be using those funds to primarily help people with housing. That is our current intention. So there are six resettlement agencies like ours in Massachusetts. We meet regularly. We share best practices and ideas, and we collaborate on the Massachusetts Office of Refugees and Immigrants all the time to figure out how to best help newcomers to our state.

The current thinking in our group is the cost of housing in Massachusetts is very high, and we're going to use a lot of those funds to make sure people have safe places to live when they come here.

Meiler: Some people might not know your organization is there to help. How can people find out more?

Thielman: People can visit us at www.iine.org.

We are certainly looking for donations, but I would also say we are looking for volunteers and even staff who speak Ukrainian and possibly Russian.

So as we get ready for an influx of refugees or evacuees from Ukraine, we're going to need a lot of people on staff who speak their native language. So if you're interested in volunteering or working, get on our website and we'd love to talk to you.

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