Federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser was joined by B.C.’s Municipal Affairs and Minister Responsible for Immigration Nathan Cullen in Vancouver on Wednesday (April 13) to provide an update on Canada’s response to resettling Ukrainian refugees.
“The last number of weeks have been just extraordinary to watch unfold,” Fraser said. “Our first approvals started to come in at the end of March. Since that time, there have been 41,000 Ukrainians approved to come to Canada under this expedited program.”
Cullen provided an update on a new program launched in collaboration with the United Way to provide Ukrainian refugees with a B.C. 211 hotline that provides services in multiple languages. The hotline is open 24/7 and services are offered in more than 150 languages.
Ukrainian refugees resettling in B.C. will also receive free employment services and support through WorkBC, free enrollment for children in the K-12 education system, free mental health support, and ensuring Ukrainians arriving through the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program are eligible for domestic tuition at public post-secondary institutions.
“Our first, second and third challenge in British Columbia is housing,” Cullen said. “Last year in B.C. we accepted 100,000 new residents to our province. The slight difference with this circumstance is the generosity of people opening up spaces that are not market housing — these are people offering us their vacation home rentals, their suites and we’re seeing that from the settlement agencies and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.”
The federal government will extend six weeks of income support and two weeks of temporary housing support for refugees unable to find accommodations when they arrive. Fraser said a majority of Ukrainians applying for resettlement in Canada have an existing connection to the country. He anticipated many refugees will choose to resettle in communities that already have a high population of ethnic Ukrainians.
Fraser faced questions about why the government was so quick to respond to the crisis in Ukraine while thousands of Afghan refugees, including interpreters who worked with the Canadian military, have had to wait for months to resettle in Canada as the Taliban seized control of the country.
“Every week since I’ve started taking questions on this the number has grown,” he said. “There are extraordinary challenges with respect to resettling people from Afghanistan that don’t exist with other refugee resettlement programs. If this was a matter of political will, there would have been 40,000 Afghan refugees here months ago. The realistic situation is there is no safe passage for thousands of people who would like to come to Canada.”
Most Ukrainians seeking to come to Canada are doing so on a temporary basis. Fraser cautioned that programs created to resettle Ukrainian refugees may not be suitable for refugees who may never be able to return to their countries of origin.
“It’s really important we don’t use a sledgehammer when we need a scalpel. This particular program was designed to respond to the very particular humanitarian situation in Ukraine.”