March 23, 2022 | Published by The Globe and Mail | By Safiyah Marhnouj
Ukrainian community groups and settlement agencies are expressing concern over the lack of federal support and programs in place for Ukrainians escaping the war and hoping to land in Canada.
Ukrainian Canadian Congress chief executive officer Ihor Michalchyshyn said in an interview that some who do make it here are unclear where to turn for help.
“Our communities are seeing people come and wander airports,” he told The Globe.
Ukrainians coming to Canada through the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program arrive as temporary residents, not refugees, and do not have access to federal services. They have virtually no support, Mr. Michalchyshyn said.
Women and children who are escaping Ukraine have limited access to funds, he said, but there is an assumption that they will be able to self-finance their flight to Canada. Once they arrive, there are no official programs in place to help Ukrainians find jobs, housing or other services they might need, he added.
“We think it’s cruel to offer people an emergency way here, but then offer them nothing in terms of support when they get here.”
The UCC released a statement on March 22 outlining policy recommendations and calling on increased federal support for Ukrainians facing displacement.
The organization’s proposals include implementing departure and arrival plans to assist with travel to Canada, providing financial support for a transitional period and encouraging provincial governments to recruit and sponsor displaced people.
“As it stands today, the plan put forward by Minister Fraser and the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship falls far short of the requirements to meet their needs,” the Ukrainian Canadian Congress said in their statement.
Under the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program, announced by the federal government on March 17, Ukrainians can stay in the country as temporary residents for up to three years.
Mr. Michalchyshyn said the UCC is still waiting for a “clear answer” on who will be co-ordinating housing and communications between Canadians who have offered their homes and arriving Ukrainians.
“While our community is eager to help and organizing to help, we’re not professional settlement agencies. We don’t have the resources or experience to deal with thousands of people in a systematic way.”
In their recommendations, the UCC also called on the federal government to provide funding for settlement agencies, who could help Ukrainians co-ordinate transport, housing and health care, and assist with work permit applications.
Such agencies are facing major issues in preparing for the arrival of Ukrainians, said Katie Crocker, co-chair of Pathways to Prosperity, an alliance that promotes the integration of immigrants in Canada. Unlike in the case of refugee settlement initiatives, there is no way for agencies to know how many Ukrainians will be arriving, leaving them unable to plan accordingly.
“We don’t know how many people are coming and where they’re going to go,” Ms. Crocker said.
Finding housing and determining how Ukrainians will obtain services is an added challenge, Ms. Crocker said. She added that the immigration sector is committed to supporting Ukrainians when they arrive.
The arrival of Ukrainians as temporary residents is not the same as previous refugee initiatives, including when Canada welcomed Syrians and Afghans through the Government-Assisted Refugees Program. Ms. Crocker said refugees arriving through that program automatically have permanent resident status, along with access to federal services and the resettlement assistance program.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.