Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. plans to welcome Ukrainian refugees with 'open arms,' says immigration minister

The provincial government and the Association for New Canadians are preparing for an influx of refugees in Newfoundland and Labrador as Russia’s invasion in the Ukraine continues, forcing over one million people — and counting — to flee their homes.

It isn't yet known how many refugees will come to N.L. or when they'll arrive

Association for New Canadians executive director Megan Morris and N.L. Immigration Minister Gerry Byrne say the province is making plans to welcome an influx of refugees from Ukraine. (CBC)

Preparations are underway for an influx of refugees in Newfoundland and Labrador as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, forcing more than one million people — and counting — to flee their homes.

Association for New Canadians executive director Megan Morris told CBC News on Thursday the organization has already been in talks with the federal and provincial governments.

"We're prepping to receive people," Morris said. "We have a lot of experience in resettlement initiatives so that the planning is underway."

The invasion began just over a week ago, and Morris said it isn't yet clear how many refugees could come to Newfoundland and Labrador or when they might arrive.

"It's early days and things are unfolding as we speak," she said.

On Thursday, Federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said the government is waiving most visa restrictions and will accept an "unlimited number" of people who want to come to Canada under the Canada Ukraine Authorization For Emergency Travel program. 

People accepted under that program will get a two-year open work or study permit, provided they supply biometrics and pass a background check. Applications open in two weeks.

Making plans

Morris said the organization was ready when it came time to resettle more than 150 Afghan refugees in Newfoundland and Labrador last fall, and will be prepared to do the same when Ukrainian refugees arrive.

"We have the infrastructure, we have the programs," she said. "If we know that we're going to be asked to step up and resettle a group, we will be prepared to do so."

That resettlement includes everything from finding accommodations to programs for children to psychological support for people fleeing traumatic situations. 

Provincial Immigration Minister Gerry Byrne told CBC News the provincial government is also making plans to bring refugees to the province. He said he will be meeting with Fraser directly to express interest in bringing refugees from Ukraine to the province. 

"Newfoundland and Labrador will be extending open arms to welcome Ukrainians and others who live in the Ukraine," Byrne said.

A man carries a baby as a crowd of people try to get on a train to Lviv at the Kyiv station in Ukraine on Friday. Ukrainian men have to stay to fight in the war while women and children are leaving the country to seek refuge in a neighbouring country. (Emilio Morenatti/The Associated Press)

According to 2016 data from Statistics Canada, more than 1,300 Ukrainian Canadians live in Newfoundland and Labrador already. The provincial government has set up a help desk to assist residents trying to bring relatives in Ukraine to Newfoundland and Labrador.

While this is the first time the government has implemented this kind of help desk, Byrne said it may do so again in the future.

"If there is a similar circumstance, a humanitarian crisis, we will employ it again."

Morris said the Association for New Canadians received "incredible" support from Newfoundland and Labrador residents when Afghan refugees arrived last fall, and she expects to see a similar level of support when Ukrainian refugees begin arriving.

"Our community has demonstrated time and time again how willing and open they are to helping immigrants and refugees," she said.

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