Plan emerges to lure Ukrainian refugees to South Dakota


Brad Johnson Special for the Journal

A $50,000 matching donation from Rapid City developer Hani Shafai started a program to bring 5,000 to 10,000 Ukrainian war refugees to South Dakota.

Prompted by President Joe Biden’s decision to accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, more than 30 attendees, representing the state’s congressional delegation, Governor Kristi Noem’s office, business and community leaders, support agencies , sponsors, employers and clergy met for six hours July 7 at Nemo .

Freedom’s Haven for New Americans’ Workforce has emerged and aims to make South Dakota a community of choice for all new Americans, organizers said. The initial effort is aimed at the more than 3 million Ukrainian refugees displaced across Europe.

To raise awareness, a benefit concert featuring international composer Calvin Jones will be held Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. at Calvary Lutheran Church in Rapid City. Originally from South Dakota, Jones has spent the past eight years in Kyiv, Ukraine, with Ukrainian and Russian orchestras.

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He and his wife Inga said they were rocked from their bed in Kyiv early on February 24 when Russia launched their attack. The couple immediately fled the country. The concert will feature music and war stories from Ukraine and more information about the effort will be made available.

Shafai, who is president of Dream Design International, said he was approached to help with the state’s labor issues shortly before the war in Ukraine began and he had attended the July meeting.

“We had first-hand accounts from people in Ukraine, religious leaders, community leaders and professionals,” Shafai said. “Their story really makes a person think of the great things we have in the United States and the good life we ​​live.”

Shafai said South Dakotans have “a duty and a responsibility to help. God has given us the ability – physical, mental and financial – to help not only ourselves, but others. It’s sad to see what people are going through, whether it’s in Ukraine, Africa, the Middle East, South America, Southeast Asia or Europe.

Shafai, who grew up in the Gaza Strip, said the plight of Ukrainian refugees “reminded me of some of the experiences I had growing up. I was blessed and blessed to be able to come to the United States (in 1981) and live the life that I lead. I had an opportunity that very few people in the world have the opportunity to experience.

His decision to provide start-up funds to the South Dakota Community Foundation’s Freedom’s Haven Fund stems from obstacles created by Biden’s agenda. Incoming refugees must have a local sponsor ready to ensure there is housing, financial and other support for approximately two years. Current law does not allow refugees, or most other legal immigrants entering through the southern border, to easily obtain social security numbers or work documents.

Shafai’s donation, and that of others, will be used to cover the sponsor’s expenses.

In addition to the humanitarian character, the objective is also to strengthen the workforce of the State. There are more than 27,000 job openings with about 700 people unemployed, according to Noem’s office.

“Many of them (Ukrainian refugees) have professional careers, are highly educated and know the industries that exist in our state,” Shafai said.

More than 45 of South Dakota’s largest healthcare companies and organizations are supporting this effort.

Support networks are being established across the state, but raising awareness remains a challenge, organizers said.

A statewide series of Calvin Jones concerts are designed to attract attention and raise funds to match Shafai’s contribution. The Rapid City concert is free to the public. A voluntary donation will be taken and major sponsors are being sought to match Shafai’s main donation.

“Immigrants have contributed to the great things happening in our country,” Shafai said, “and I hope we can continue to do so. We are to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us.

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