President Biden on Thursday said that the United States stands open to helping the more than 3 million people who have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion into the country began three weeks ago.
“As nations that have been marked by immigrants who departed Ireland in coffin ships and immigrants who sought the safety of new beginnings in the United States, we are open, and our hearts are open, and our arms are open to help the more than 3 million Ukrainian refugees who have already fled Putin’s onslaught,” Biden said at the annual shamrock presentation at the White House.
More than 3 million refugees have left Ukraine since Feb. 24, with the majority – more than 1.9 million – fleeing to Poland, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
Biden said that Ireland and the U.S. stand united against Russia’s aggression and noted that both nations have also lived through war.
“Vladimir Putin has launched an unconscionable war against Ukraine, against the very pillars of international peace and stability and as two nations that have fought for freedom, we recognize the courage and determination of the Ukrainian people who defend their liberty now. And they do,” he said.
Biden earlier on Thursday held a bilateral meeting with the Irish prime minister, or taoiseach, Micheál Martin, which was moved to a virtual call since Martin tested positive for COVID-19 while in Washington, D.C. The leaders spoke about their coordinated response to Russia’s invasion into Ukraine and the economic costs imposed on Russia so far.
On Wednesday, Biden called Putin a war criminal, marking a shift in rhetoric about the Russian president. He also called Putin a “murderous dictator” and a “pure thug” during the annual Friends of Ireland Luncheon on Thursday at the Capitol.
Biden, at the shamrock presentation, also spoke about the U.S.’s support for political and economic stability in Northern Ireland.
“The United States stands ready to work with all the communities in Northern Ireland to ensure its extraordinary economic potential and make sure that its realized and we look forward to supporting the next Northern Ireland executive after the upcoming assembly elections, which are their way,” Biden said.
The shamrock presentation dates back to 1952, when the Irish ambassador sent a small box of shamrocks to former President Truman. Since 1993, all taoisigh have made annual trips to Washington around St. Patrick’s Day.
Martin joined the shamrock presentation virtually, but a crystal bowl of shamrocks was sitting on stage next to Biden.
Biden, who touted his Irish roots, acknowledged two relatives at the event who live in Ireland, as well as Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the first Irish American president, John F. Kennedy, and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.
“I’d understand him better if he spoke Gaelic instead of Boston. Where are you, Marty Walsh? There you are, Mart. Mah-rty Walsh!” Biden called out.
“Growing up an Irish American gave me a pride that spoke both continents, heart and soul that drew in from old and new and the conviction that everyone, everyone is deserving of being treated with dignity,” the president said.
“I think it’s fair to say, I can’t prove this, I think it’s fair to say I’ve never heard the word dignity used as much as I have among the Irish,” he added.
The annual St. Patrick’s Day events were canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the White House expressed Biden’s disappointment that the taoiseach couldn’t come to the White House in-person this year.
“He was disappointed. He was looking forward to having the meeting today and having meetings over zoom, I think we have all experienced, isn’t the same,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “He was really looking forward to the meeting.”