The Woolwich Observer

Region prepares to welcome Ukrainian refugees fleeing war

No tally yet on how many of those displaced by invasion will end up here

- Bill Atwood Observer Staff

AS RUSSIA’S INVASION OF UKRAINE continues, Waterloo Region is preparing to welcome refugees to the area, though just how many will arrive here remains up in the air.

“It makes it more difficult in some ways, but the same types of things need to happen, regardless of the number of people that are coming,” said Tara Bedard, executive director of Waterloo Immigratio­n Partnershi­p.

Bedard noted the system in place for Ukrainians coming to Canada is different from the normal refugee process.

“Typically, when refugees come into the country… we have a formal refugee resettleme­nt program for government-assisted refugees and for privately sponsored refugees. And through either one of those programs streams, there’s a set number of refugees who will come into our community either because the government is assisting them in coming to Canada... or because groups of private individual­s in the region have decided to sponsor refugees to come into the region,” she explained, noting that won’t be the case this time around.

“The measures are outside of our formal refugee resettleme­nt program. They’re issuing emergency travel authorizat­ion so that they can move people very quickly and then processing them to be able to stay in the country using temporary residence permits.”

The different process means that refugees may not be matched up with a specific program, Bedard said.

“We know that this is a very quickly evolving plan, so we’re in a holding pattern and waiting for more informatio­n from the federal government on what the measures mean in practice.”

Residents in the region are stepping forward to help, Bedard noted.

“I was here through

the Syrian initiative. I’ve been here working with organizati­ons through, when the government made the announceme­nt about Afghanista­n in the summer, and now again with the response to support people who are fleeing Ukraine. Every time announceme­nts like this are made by the federal government, there’s a groundswel­l of support in this region. People want to help and a lot of self-organizing by groups of residents and individual residents to do anything and everything that they can think of to try to help people who will be coming into the region.”

Wilmot resident Stephanie Goertz has started a Facebook group (Waterloo Region Grassroots Response to

Ukrainian Crisis) and is hosting weekly meetings in an attempt to organize support.

“People desperatel­y want to help and we want

to provide a framework for people to help them in ways that they see possible. So there is some structure to it, as well as creating partnershi­ps

from across the region and with the local Ukrainian churches,” said Goertz.

Because Canada is far away from the crisis, that presents an advantage of being able to prepare, unlike immediate neighbours such as Poland and Slovakia, she said.

“We have a huge opportunit­y in Canada because we’re not at the forefront to rally and provide overwhelmi­ng support for the Ukrainians coming to Canada.”

Goertz also pointed to the different refugee process as one of her reasons for wanting to help.

“The influx of people that will be coming en masse would overwhelm any organizati­on regardless of how well they were establishe­d before this occurred. We shouldn’t just sit back and say, ‘Oh they’ll deal with it,’ it’s something that our community needs to rally together to help just as every single person,” she said.

While Bedard acknowledg­ed that not every Canadian supports immigratio­n, she hopes this will have a positive impact on the perception of it.

“We’re always looking at what is the impact of an announceme­nt like this and how does the government [response] in these situations… how does that help to grow support for immigratio­n in the region? Support for more diversity in the community and just making every effort to help new people coming into the region have a better and more welcoming experience.”

Canada stands out in the world for its immigratio­n process and its managed approach, Bedard explained.

“Everybody who comes to Canada as an immigrant or refugee has gone through a whole process that involves background checks and security clearances, and those are not ever missed, including when the Syria initiative happened and the Afghan resettleme­nt is taking place, and now with Ukraine – they don’t skip measures. Things just happen on a different scale and at a different pace. The Canadian government is clear they don’t skip measures in the way that they respond when they’re doing these special initiative­s,” she said.

“So to people who have concerns that kind of process is thrown out the window when these initiative­s happen, that is not the case.”

 ?? ?? There’s been an outpouring of support for Ukrainians since Russia invaded Feb. 24.
There’s been an outpouring of support for Ukrainians since Russia invaded Feb. 24.

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