Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.
During the past few weeks, the Government of Canada announced a number of initiatives to help Ukrainians displaced by Russia’s invasion to come to Canada.
The first announcement came on April 9 and included the following:
• Short-term income support to ensure basic needs are met. This will amount to $500 per week for a period of six weeks.
• Targeted charter flights to Canada for Ukrainians. Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said his department is working with Canadian airlines to organize the flights, but details haven’t been finalized. He said many of the affected Ukrainians are spread over a wide area and some aren’t ready to leave just yet.
• Temporary hotel accommodation for up to two weeks. Many of the people arriving have family or other connections in Canada, so it’s unclear how many will need the temporary accommodations.
Five days later, Anita Anand, Minister of National Defence, announced on that up to 150 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel will be deployed to Poland in order to provide assistance in reception centres operated by the Polish Territorial Defence Force located across the country. These centres coordinate the onward movement of Ukrainian refugees in Poland and across Europe. The CAF will provide support, limited medical care, mental health supports and spiritual services, enabled by Ukrainian-speaking CAF personnel to assist with the immediate care and processing of refugees.
The third such new measure came on April 21 when Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC), announced a new Ukraine2Canada Travel Fund, which will be launched in partnership with Miles4Migrants, The Shapiro Foundation and Air Canada and will build on the support for Ukrainians wishing to travel to Canada.
Under this program, Ukrainian refugees (see postscript) can access a bank of Aeroplan points to pay for flights to Canada from Europe. Applications won’t be ready until mid-May, but any refugees wishing to get such an application can fill out a form now and one will be emailed to them when they are ready. To fill out the form go to the Miles4Migrants website (https://miles4migrants.org/canada/), scroll down to the bottom of the web page and click on the Contact button.
Air Canada has donated 100 million Aeroplan point to this program and the Shapiro Foundation will match donations by Canadians, with a donation equivalent of up to 50 million Aeroplan points until July 2022. The points will contribute towards facilitating transportation and can be used on flights operated by Air Canada and its Star Alliance partners including Lufthansa, LOT Polish Airlines, SWISS, United Airlines and other carriers. Participating partners hope to being as many as 10,000 Ukrainian refugees to Canada under this initiative. Charter flights are still in the works, but will be announced at a future date.
While both the financial support for refugees and the points plan are still to be implemented, they are welcomed by our community, but much more can be done. For one thing, the financial support given refugees covers only six weeks, while the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) has asked for 90 days.
That extra time is quite necessary. The vast majority of the refugees are women and children. Men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave in case they are called up to defend their homeland, unless they are eligible for exemption (for example a father with three children). Yes, refugees arriving in Canada do get work permits and many jobs are available, but let’s not forget they have been traumatized by their experiences and not only need time to adjust to the new reality, but also find daycare for their children.
And while the new travel initiative is most welcome the current target is to provide free transportation for 10,000 refugees. But as of April 19, IRCC received close to 163,747 applications and approved 56,633 of them. By now over 5 million people have left Ukraine. Over half of them are in Poland whose people and government have responded in a most extraordinary manner. But let’s face it. Their resources are limited and have already reached the breaking point. Some refugees who were granted free rent for a limited period must now find ways to pay for it. Many of them are returning to Ukraine even though the government is warning that no place is safe. Others remain in large facilities that have been transformed into shelters. What’s more many have arrived with nothing but the proverbial shirts on their backs. The cost of a flight to Canada may be prohibitive. The government may say that the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program is available to an “unlimited” number of Ukrainians. But in reality, it is limited both by availability of flights and financial resources.
So, once again we welcome these new initiatives. They are a good start but must be viewed only as a start. As this heartless, inhuman and genocidal war continues its course the refugee crisis it has created will only increase by leaps and bounds.
Postscript: The Government of Canada prefers us to use the term “displaced persons” rather than refugees. This distinction has more to do with legal semantics than actual fact. If a person wants official refugee status he or she must first apply for such status through the United Nations and once they have been granted such status and come to Canada, they cannot return to Ukraine. Therefore, we do not recommend anyone to apply for such status. But the Oxford Dictionary definition of refugee is “a person who has been forced to leave their country or home, because there is a war or for political, religious or social reasons”. There is a war and they have been forced to leave their country because of it. That makes them refugees. The government itself has referred to displaced Ukrainians as refugees in their official press releases. (https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/news/2022/04/minister-anand-announces-the-immediate-deployment-of-canadian-armed-forces-personnel-to-poland-in-response-to-the-ukrainian-refugee-crisis.html