OTTAWA — The plan to settle thousands of Ukrainians in Canada so far appears to offer no effective way to track newcomers and connect them directly to community supports, according to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
The federal government is expected to release more details soon on the plan to settle an unlimited number of Ukrainian nationals and their families in Canada.
Many of the people arriving in Canada over the next few weeks and months will be mothers and their children who left their homes weeks ago. Many will speak neither English nor French, have no contacts in Canada and very few resources, said Ihor Michalchyshyn, national executive director of the congress.
The government will have support services available at the airport from Friday to offer important arrival information to Ukrainians in their language, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced on Monday.
As far as Michalchyshyn is aware, this program will be voluntary and people could miss it, making it difficult for those arriving to access government and community support.
Without any records, he wonders how community and settlement agencies will communicate with people who arrive. Only federal immigration officials will know specifically who is coming to Canada, he said.
As it stands, congressional volunteers stand at airports trying to stop people as they arrive to offer help.
“We don’t even know when these people are coming,” he said in an interview. “Our institutions and community groups will pick up the pieces, but it’s a very haphazard way to plan something for so many people.”
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that 3.9 million people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries since February 24.
The government opened applications on March 17 to allow people fleeing the Russian invasion to come to Canada for three years on a visitor visa while they decide whether to return home or apply for permanent residency.
So far, nearly 60,000 Ukrainians and their families have applied for the program.
Fraser says 12,000 Ukrainians who applied through other immigration channels have also arrived in Canada since January.
This is a unique program of its kind in Canada, designed to help people fleeing war to come to Canada quickly without making them official refugees, and allowing them to work and study while they plan their next steps.
Formal refugee programs, however, come with built-in supports, including help finding housing and orientation to life in Canada.
Fraser told the House of Commons on Tuesday that the government would extend settlement supports, including job search assistance, language training and other measures usually available to refugees, to Ukrainians who come to Canada.
“It’s not enough for them to arrive, they have to be put in place to be successful once they arrive in Canada,” he said in an exchange during Question Period.
Michalchyshyn fears these services may be difficult for people without help to access.
“If you want to sponsor a family, or frankly, if you need help, it’s very difficult to know how it’s supposed to work on either side,” he said.
The government has created a central employment board to connect companies looking to hire Ukrainians with people when they arrive.
Many Canadians have offered other types of help, in the form of funds, donations of goods and offers to sponsor families, but there is currently no mechanism to connect them with people in need. , Michalchyshyn said.
Congress also reported that there are longer waits for emergency travel documents and biometrics, which could slow people’s ability to come to Canada.
Former Alberta Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk agreed, but offered his congratulations to the federal government and staff working to get Ukrainians to Canada as quickly as possible.
“These are real issues that aren’t very easy to overcome, when you’re suddenly dealing with a lot of individuals,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.
He helped organize a charter flight for 60 Ukrainians from Warsaw, Poland, to Edmonton, Alberta, which arrived Monday evening. On Tuesday, the plane returned to the area with donated medical equipment, medicine and other vital supplies.
Many of those who got off the plane on Monday only had a plastic shopping bag full of belongings with them, Lukaszuk said.
He said that in Alberta, municipalities and the provincial government are working to ensure Ukrainian families have what they need when they arrive.
“It will never be an easy process. You look at people who are traumatized. They’ve been through hell, they’ve left behind loved ones who are in the middle of a war zone, they usually won’t speak English,” said Lukaszuk, who fled Poland for Canada a while ago. 40 years.
“It’s difficult, but they’ll be fine.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 29, 2022.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press