Sunday, July 21, 2024

Vancouver Island-based Ukrainian refugee support society calls on government to do better


Help Ukraine Vancouver Island Society (Help Ukraine VI) is an award-winning, volunteer-powered organization that wants nothing more than to bring humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees of the war torn country.

The group has helped over 960 Ukrainians, many of whom are single mothers who have left sons, fathers and husbands to fight off Russian invaders. 

Help Ukraine VI helps bring temporary housing, emergency financial assistance, free groceries, welcome baskets, ESL classes, job assistance, translation services and informational support to these refugees that are predominantly women and children.

The organization works closely with local community groups, service clubs and churches, including the Salvation Army, CRD Foodshare Network, WorkBC, Inter-cultural Associations, Ukrainian Cultural Societies and local businesses to get the newcomers to Canada what they need to build a new life and integrate into North American society.

Help Ukraine VI has answered the call and filled a giant hole in these refugees’ lives, and now they are calling on federal, provincial and municipal governments to answer their questions and help them do more. 

“The Vancouver Island community has been very generous with their donations to date, but this is beginning to wane,” wrote Karmen McNamara, General Manager of Help Ukraine VI.

March 31st is the deadline for Ukrainian people to apply for the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) in order to get a temporary visa. There is also a deadline set for the same day at the end of March for Ukrainians to receive transitional assistance through the Canadian government.

“We have observed a six-fold increase in new arrivals from Ukraine since January 2023, and we believe this is due to the impending expiry of CUAET,” wrote McNamara. 

“If this continues, the voluntary support network in our community will be overwhelmed.”

What Help Ukraine VI wants from the government

The Canadian Government claims that over 860,000 have applied for a temporary visa and only around 560,000 have received the stamp of approval.

HUVIS is confused by these statistics because according to their data, only around 168,000 refugees have arrived in Canada.

McNamara and the whole of the Help Ukraine VI is calling on governmental bodies to clarify two things:

  • Where are the remaining 392,000 approved Ukrainian applicants and when will they be arriving in Canada?
  • How are BC and Canada going to ensure adequate transitional and settlement supports for all the Ukrainians who are expected to arrive in Canada?

Given that a significant number of these refugees will be settling on Vancouver Island, Help Ukraine VI believes they are uniquely positioned to support and house these individuals. 

“Our Society has a deep understanding of the challenges that these newcomers face, and we have a proven track record of providing effective support to them,” McNamara wrote. 

“We are also well-connected with local community groups, service clubs, and businesses, which allows us to mobilize a wide range of resources to support our programs and initiatives.”

Help Ukraine VI wants to point out that the Ukrainian newcomers are contributing to Vancouver Island once here by working and filling holes in the labour market.

One example the organization provided is that BC Ferries have hired around 50 Ukrainian newcomers.

Help Ukraine VI is requesting funding from federal and provincial governments to meet the needs of the Ukrainian refugees settling on Vancouver Island by hiring two full-time workers and having financial assistance in providing food and deliveries.

All-in-all, Help Ukraine VI is requesting a minimum of $691,000 to aid these women and children who come to Canada with nothing but hope. 

Federal government’s latest statement

Sean Fraser, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship announced Wednesday morning that he will be giving an update on immigration measures for Ukrainian refugees.

In his announcement, Fraser has extended the ability to apply for a CUAET temporary visa from March 31st to July 15th.

“We remain committed to helping those fleeing Russia’s illegal and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine,” said Minister Fraser. 

“We continue working to provide Ukrainians with a temporary safe haven and the vital settlement services and supports they need to thrive in communities across Canada. Canada will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine, including those who’ve been forced to flee Russia’s senseless invasion.”

Fraser made no comment as to the discrepancy in the number of approved CUAET visa-holders and the number of refugees who have landed in Canada. 

Curtis Blandy

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