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‘This is what B.C. does’: Minister Cullen commends community response to Ukrainian refugees

Donations, accommodations, and work opportunities flow freely for refugees in B.C.
Ukrainian refugees walk along vehicles lining up to cross the border from Ukraine into Moldova, at Mayaky-Udobne crossing border point near Udobne, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. The U.N. refugee agency says nearly 120,000 people have so far fled Ukraine into neighbouring countries in the wake of the Russian invasion. The number was going up fast as Ukrainians grabbed their belongings and rushed to escape from a deadly Russian onslaught. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

More and more refugees from Ukraine are arriving in B.C. as Russia’s invasion continues. Minister of Municipal Affairs Nathan Cullen said he expects more refugees will arrive in waves.

Over 160,000 Ukrainians have applied for resettlement in Canada under the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel, and 60,000 have been approved so far. The priority is on getting as many refugees settled as possible, which makes it difficult to track where refugees are ending up.

“The numbers are starting to increase,” Cullen said. “We don’t know when, who, how many or where Ukrainians are arriving until they arrive or sometimes even after they’ve arrived when they pop up looking to get their kids into a school or contacting a local settlement group.”

Cullen said early arrivals were more likely to be connected to friends and family to ease the resettlement process, but the next waves of refugees are likely to rely more heavily on government and non-profit support.

When Ukrainians arrive, they’ll be eligible for healthcare and education as soon as possible. B.C. recently waived the three-month wait period for MSP-covered health care for all Ukrainian refugees settling in the province, though refugees will still need to apply for MSP coverage upon arrival.

READ MORE: Ukrainians fleeing to B.C. will receive immediate health coverage

READ MORE: Three young Ukrainians land in Chilliwack ready to work

“While their applications are processed, people can get to hospitals and doctors if they need,” Cullen said. “We suspect folks will need both physical medical needs and mental health — these folks are escaping brutal war and it should not surprise anyone they’ll need some help when they land.”

So far, refugees have been welcomed with open arms in B.C. as many residents have offered accommodations, donations and work opportunities. Included on the government’s Welcoming Ukraine webpage is a section for British Columbians to make donations and offer accommodation if they choose.

Accommodations are vetted by the United Way, which is administering a bulk of the support, to ensure accommodations are a good fit and are safe.

“There are also alternative streams where community groups are self-organized, they’ve arranged accommodation and support, and have gotten in touch with Ukrainians fleeing the war to help them settle in communities all across B.C.,” Cullen said.

If it turns out that accommodations are not a good fit, refugees can contact the provincial government or the settlement agency they worked with to find alternative accommodations.

“This happens with every group of refugees we’ve settled. You continue to work the problem and continue to work the situation to make it fit. And the situation for the refugees themselves will change as well,” Cullen said. “There are the initial needs when they’re here for the first couple months but what they hope for and desire may change in the months that follow.”

Along with the efforts of everyday British Columbians, Cullen said municipalities have stepped up to the plate by offering up municipally-owned spaces for accommodation and developing community-based support.

“This is what British Columbia does. Some would argue we’ve not done enough, but we’ve never argued we’ve done too much. Even in a constrained housing market and other stresses on the system, ultimately, giving, supporting and being generous is what we do and what we ought to do because it’s the best of us.”

All of the provincial and federal programs are designed to be temporary. Cullen would not speculate on what would happen if the war required the permanent resettlement of Ukrainians in the future, however, he did note that B.C. will need new immigrants in the years to come.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if a fair number [of refugees] decided to stay in Canada given the support we see.”

READ MORE: B.C. expands employment, education, mental health support for Ukrainian refugees

READ MORE: Ukraine leader pushes for more arms; US officials to visit


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