Settlement agencies are preparing for the arrival of tens of thousands of Ukrainians before emergency visas for those fleeing the Russian invasion expire at the end of March.
Canada has issued nearly 1 million temporary emergency visas to Ukrainians fleeing the war since March 2022Laura Osman · The Canadian Press
· Posted: Jan 18, 2024 4:07 PM EST | Last Updated: January 18
Ukrainian nationals fleeing the ongoing war in Ukraine arrive at Trudeau Airport in Montreal on Sunday, May 29, 2022. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)Settlement agencies are preparing for the arrival of tens of thousands of Ukrainians before emergency visas for those fleeing the Russian invasion expire at the end of March.
The federal government has issued 936,293 temporary emergency visas since March 2022 for Ukrainians who want to work or study in Canada while they wait out the war.
A total of 210,178 people had actually made the journey to Canada as of Nov. 28.
Up to 90,000 more emergency visa holders are thinking of coming before the deadline, pre-arrival surveys by Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada and Operation Ukraine Safe Haven suggest.
That would be a considerable increase in the number of Ukrainian newcomers compared to past months, said Sarosh Rizvi, Operation Ukraine Safe Haven’s executive director.
When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, millions of people escaped the country in search of safety. Canada took the extraordinary approach of opening its doors to an unlimited number of Ukrainians and their families with a new emergency visa program.
An apartment building damaged in a Russian rocket attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine, in the early hours of Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024. (Kharkiv Regional Administration/The Associated Press)Compared to what’s in place for people who arrive as typical refugees, there were few fewer built-in supports to help the Ukrainian newcomers get on their feet. Instead, community members stepped up to donate clothes and furniture, businesses offered people jobs and some people even opened their homes.
Now, as Ukraine approaches the second anniversary of the invasion, that groundswell of support has waned.
“We don’t have the level of public interest that we did two years ago,” Rizvi said in an interview Wednesday.
Instead, the response has become more institutionalized, he said. That means the settlement sector is more prepared to respond now, but the expected influx will stretch its capacity.
“I think every element is about to be tested,” from settlement staff to hotel capacity and even food banks, he said.
The other challenge is finding people places to live, he said.
“There’s no great response to that right now. It remains a need and it is still being dealt with on an individual-by-individual basis,” he said.
The organization is encouraging people who choose to come before the deadline to consider settling in smaller communities where housing is easier to find and more affordable.