As some of you who know me on Twitter are aware, I have been placing Ukrainian families in private homes for a couple of weeks now. I was an election observer in Ukraine during the Orange Revolution and I felt as shocked and powerless as everyone else when the war began. The one thing I felt I could do was offer up space in my home, and I posted a tweet on Twitter to that effect, and included my work email. My email address made its way around Warsaw and I am now contacted pretty regularly by Ukrainians needing help finding places in Canada. It’s not much, but it’s the least I can do.
I had indicated in that tweet that I didn’t know who was stickhandling things, and it turns out there is no co-ordinated body handling resettlement housing. And since the plan is that the Ukrainians will return to Ukraine when the war ends, there is a lot of uncertainty around whether they will be here for months or years, which complicates things. Let me go through what I have learned so far, bearing in mind this is a rapidly changing situation.
First of all, to clarify a huge misunderstanding, the people who are coming to Canada from Ukraine are not coming as refugees with refugee status. They are instead being issued with special visas, and while that expedites their ability to get to Canada, it also means they are not eligible for the same benefits as refugees, such as repayable loans for airfare.
Because they don’t need to be sponsored the way refugees do, they can arrange their accommodations directly. They don’t have to be sponsored by NGOs or groups. In that sense, they are like anyone else coming to Canada on a visa. But there is a downside to all of this, as you will see.
I’ve had some potential hosts ask who is responsible for paying airfare and at the moment, it’s the Ukrainian asylum seekers or those who offer to help them. Apparently, Canada has given some thought to organizing an airlift from Poland, but the problem is that if they suddenly bring over several hundred people, they don’t know what to do with them.
If Canada does provide an airlift of some sort, I think the government will have to revisit the question of paying for airfare for others who had to pay for their own flights. With with previous groups of refugees, this has taken the form of a repayable loan, due within two or three years. But again, because of their special non-refugee status, Ukrainians fleeing to Canada will have to come up with their own airfare.
I’ve been fortunate in that the hosts I have put families with so far have been able to contribute, and I’ve had some other people contact me and offer to pay for airfare so it hasn’t been an issue.
In terms of healthcare, this is where not being refugees poses a real problem in some provinces like Ontario. Refugees are entitled to apply for health care on arrival. Those coming here on visas may or may not be be eligible, depending on the province, because health care falls within provincial jurisdiction, and the situation is different from province to province.
In Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and Alberta, those arriving in Canada are eligible right away for health care coverage. In Ontario, however, they have to work for six months to be eligible to apply for it. That could prove to be a longer gap, as they need to find jobs. Some are not fluent in English.
Which means having medical insurance in place. I hope the federal government encourages the provinces that don’t currently provide health care to these asylum seekers to do so, because having to pay for medical insurance will pose an additional cost to people who are coming with limited resources.
In terms of financial supports, again, they will not be receiving anything by way of government support, and will be dependent on savings or support from family, friends or strangers, until they can find work. , and they are being encouraged to apply for open work permits or student permits when they apply for visas. Host families may receive a tax credit of some type from the federal government, but details have not been announced – it’s been hinted at, and is likely being considered, but no commitments.
So if you are planning to host a Ukrainian family, be aware that until they find work, they are going to have to live off savings, and they are coming from a poor country with a much lower average monthly wage (around $ 800/month) than in Canada.
The people who have contacted me have been women, some with children. Three were lawyers. Several were in high school, fluent in English, writing on behalf of their families, who weren’t. (Remember, men between the ages of 18-70 are unable to leave Ukraine.) All of them wanted to find work or continue their studies. Most indicated that they wanted to send money home to their families to help support them as some of the families who decided to stay behind lost their jobs. Most have left husbands, brothers and fathers behind to fight in the war.
They all indicated they are looking for a place to stay until their situation stabilizes and they can find their own accommodation and all anticipate their placements with host families will be temporary. However, I suspect they have no idea how expensive housing is here in Canada. I think it’s going to take them a long time to get settled, find work, and find places of their own, longer than they expect.
If you are offering to host a Ukrainian person or family, I think you should expect them to be with you for up to a year. I’ve had host families contact me and indicate that they are willing to host for a month or two and while I appreciate the offers, that’s just not going to be long enough.
During this time, you will likely need to help them out financially or fundraise to help support them. The local Ukrainian churches are busy fundraising now, and so are many Ukrainian organizations.
There are arrangements being made in Ottawa where Ukrainian asylum seekers will have a “free” shop to go to for clothes and other items and I imagine there will be similar arrangements made elsewhere. But remember, these people have fled Ukraine with a suitcase. They are going to need help with just about everything. They are coming with limited resources to a country that is sadly, is so far providing only limited resources to help them out.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress in Ottawa is going to provide weekly counselling in Ukrainian; I suspect other cities will too. These are going to be highly traumatized people who have had to flee with the clothes on their back and not much more. I really hope the government steps up and offers more supports.
In terms of jobs, one thing the government has done is to create a job bank database where Ukrainians coming here and those Canadian businesses who have jobs available for them can register and search availability. So if you can provide work to a Ukrainian asylum seeker, please check this website out.
I should note that Newfoundland and Labrador has sent an immigration team to Poland (where the Canadian embassy is located) and are going from shelter to shelter encouraging Ukrainian asylum seekers to come to Newfoundland and Labrador. They are the only province to do so, bless their hearts. I do not know if they are also arranging to help with airfare, or arrange discounts, but the province has set up an email address, UkrainianFamily@gov.nl.ca, for anyone who may be able to help support Ukrainian newcomers, and firstname.lastname@example.org for those looking to assist families displaced by the conflict.
I have had people ask me for reputable places to donate money to help people in Ukraine and those relocating. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress is a good start. I have donated to the Canadian Red Cross for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. I have also donated to the Friends of Ukraine Defence Fund, which supplies armor and helmets as well other supplies to those defending Ukraine.
Whatever you can do, however small, will help. I’m reminded of the story of the little boy who goes to the beach with his father and they find millions of starfish stranded on the sand, dying. The father picks one up and puts it in the water and the little boy says, “why are you doing that? There are too many of them. It won’t make a difference.” And the father says, “it makes a difference to this one.”