British Columbia

B.C. expecting thousands of Ukrainian refugees, says premier

Thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion of their home country are expected to seek refuge in British Columbia, according to Premier John Horgan.

University housing, ski resorts could serve as temporary housing

Premier John Horgan answers questions during a news conference in the press theatre at the legislature in Victoria, Friday, March 11, 2022. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion of their home country are expected to seek refuge in British Columbia, according to Premier John Horgan.

Since Russian forces marched into Ukraine over two weeks ago, hundreds have been killed and injured and millions have been displaced from their homes, especially in the eastern part of the country.

Many of them could end up coming to Canada — which is home to the world's third largest population of Ukrainians — and to British Columbia specifically, according to the province.

"They're going to need a place to go, whether it's short term in hopes of returning to Ukraine, or to put down roots in B.C.," said Horgan, who predicted at a Friday news conference the number of refugees to the province could potentially number in the tens of thousands.

He says provincial premiers had a conference call earlier this week to discuss a "coast-to-coast response to what will become an emerging refugee crisis in Europe as a result of invasion by Vladimir Putin of the sovereign state of Ukraine."

A man and a child escape from the town of Irpin, after heavy shelling on the only escape route used by locals, while Russian troops advance towards the capital of Kyiv on March 6, 2022. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Housing a challenge for refugees

Horgan met with local Ukrainian community leaders and settlement organizations to discuss the needs of this refugee population which include translation and trauma counselling services.

Housing, he says, will be the biggest challenge.

"We know this in our domestic activity, much less opening our doors to newcomers," said the premier. He pointed to a number of opportunities for temporary housing, including vacancies at ski resorts in the off-season and on-campus university student housing.

"People are renovating their basements as quickly as they can to prepare a suite or they're emptying out rooms filled with boxes to make sure there is a space for people if it's needed."

Immigration organizations preparing for influx

While Horgan estimates women and children will make up the majority of the Ukrainian refugee population, he says it's too early to tell the exact number and makeup of people coming to B.C.

Both Horgan and the Immigration Services Society of B.C. say they need more information from the federal government about the timeline for refugees arriving in British Columbia.

Chris Friesen, the chief operating operating officer for ISS of B.C., says even though Canada has signaled it will not set a target for the number of refugees, getting an estimate of who is coming temporarily and permanently is important.

"As far as short-term transitional housing, these Ukrainians are going to be coming in during a pandemic," he said, meaning all refugees will have to quarantine for 14 days in a hotel in the Lower Mainland.

"We're here to help and we're ready to go. We just need more clarity on the post-arrival stage."

Canada granting 2-year visas

The Canadian government has created two new pathways for Ukrainians to come to Canada — part of a plan to accept an "unlimited number" of people who want to leave.

To start, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said his department has created a new visa category that will allow a limitless number of Ukrainians to come to Canada to live, work or study here for up to two years.

The government is also introducing an "expedited path" to permanent residency for Ukrainians with family in Canada. 

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser speaks during a press conference in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022, in response to the Ukraine crisis. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Settlement offers from European countries are likely to be more attractive to Ukrainians hoping to stay closer to home in the hopes that Putin will withdraw and vacate their home country so they can return home.

However, for others, Horgan says, Canada is a desirable location due to the existing support systems within the Ukrainian-Canadian community.

Alexandra Dawley, with B.C. resettlement organization MOSAIC, says the Canadian government has introduced "unparalleled and uncommon" refugee resettlement measures for Ukrainian refugees.

"We're seeing an increased effort to make sure that there's at least temporary safety for those who are from the Ukraine here in Canada and specifically here in B.C."

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