By Jaymie L. White
Special to Wreckhouse Press
WEST COAST – With the Russian invasion of the Ukraine forcing millions of people to be displaced from their homes and seek refuge in other countries, preparations are being made on Canadian soil in anticipation of future arrivals. The provincial government announced on Wednesday, Mar. 2 the implementation of the Ukrainian Family Support Desk, which can provide assistance to individuals with family reunification and sponsorship through federal programs, directing Ukrainians to employment opportunities and connections to employers for those who wish to work in the province.
Gerry Byrne, Minister of Immigration, Population Growth and Skills stated, “The pre-meditated and condemnable Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought calamity to the Ukrainian people and distress to the global community. Our duty of citizenship calls us to work with our residents who have family and friends in Ukraine to support Ukrainians.”
Port Aux Basques Mayor Brian Button said he has been attempting to get Minister Byrne on the phone to discuss what his town can do to help.
“We haven’t had any plans, at least from a council perspective. I don’t know if there’s organizations amongst us that are doing something, but we haven’t. I have been, over the past week, been reaching out to Minister Byrne’s office to have discussions with them on what we could do and how we could help out in some ways.”
Mayor Button said on that a virtual meeting was being called by Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) to have a meeting with Minister Byrne regarding the Ukraine piece and that members of council planned on attending to get certain questions answered.
“We are trying to reach out to see what we can do as a community, what we can do as a council, what role can we play, what has got to be done. We want to know the details. I think from Stephenville’s perspective, they are fortunate that they do have some Ukraine citizens in their community who’ve been able to provide knowledge about the activities and what’s taking place, but for us, we’ve been trying to find out what role we can play. We don’t want to go and spin our wheels of trying to say we’re going to do something when that’s not the direction of the provincial government or the direction the people want to go. We want to find the right direction.”
The Town of Stephenville has begun to put their own strategies in place in anticipation for the first arrivals. Mayor Tom Rose is on a committee that was spearheaded by Nomad Stages, and the new committee is getting the town ready to receive and offer humanitarian help to people fleeing the Ukraine.
“We do have a large Ukrainian population. There are people from the Ukraine who live and work in the Stephenville/Bay St. George area in agriculture, professional theater, dance. Our new town manager is married to a Ukrainian lady. His name is Colin Maddock. He worked for 12 years in Ukraine under their economic framework for the Prime Minister and so, having Colin now as the manager, Aliusha (Aly) Benoit with the Red Cross assisting us with our committee, I think the fundraising team has about $20,000 raised already. And the town is playing a pivotal role and we want to be there for the people of the Ukraine. It’s so important because if Ukrainians come here and can’t speak English, for example, we’ve got translators of Ukrainian people who live here now.”
Rose said one of the things the town is doing is a gap analysis to ensure Stephenville will meet and exceed the expectations that will be put on its resources and facilities.
“We are the emergency disaster response main community for the region, so we have a lot of resources from our college facilities, our hotel capacities, rental availability, and once refugees come in and are looking at staying, that’s our goal, to maybe attract family members of the families that are here. If they decide to stay, through the federal government or our funding, we can look at housing developments. Colin is a key person for me in that role as the Town Manager because of his background in the Ukraine with economic development and I think we’re going to be poised and ready to accept people from the Ukraine.”
The mayor shared he has heard word that Halifax, Nova Scotia could be the main airport site accepting the first arrivals of Ukrainian refugees into Canada before they are disseminated to other parts of the country. He says Stephenville, which has the highest Ukrainian population in the province, would be an ideal spot for relocation.
“I think Canada has a great reputation as a country. Newfoundland obviously is a very friendly and inclusive province. Stephenville is probably a leader in this province when it comes to inclusivity, but I think the big thing is that there are Ukrainians are already based here, and obviously, who wouldn’t want to live in Stephenville? It’s absolutely beautiful. We have the oceans. We have the hills, but most importantly, we are very safe. We’re in a very safe country and people coming out of their country. They’re broken. We want to work with them, give them supports, and we want to help them with the healing and the adjustment to a new land.”
Rose said Stephenville began this process early, before hearing of the first arrivals coming into the province, because it’s important to have a plan in place to ensure success.
“If you don’t have a plan to execute a project it will probably fail. We are in the planning stages and we’re getting organized. We’re doing our reach to sectors that support, and we’ll get a lot of help from Immigration NL and maybe the Association of New Canadians, but the Red Cross will be a critical factor for us.”
Rose asks that communities get involved, because even if Ukrainians aren’t coming to their specific community, they are coming to Newfoundland and Labrador, so they can help with donations to the Red Cross. That will not only be advantageous to communities where Ukrainians will be relocated, but it will help the Red Cross with their Humanitarian efforts in the Ukraine.
“I think we’re starting to see a little reach coming out of Corner Brook to support us, from individuals. There’s a silent auction that’s going to be taking place, so I think the reach is going to start picking up, especially once we get the indication that people from the Ukraine are going to start to arrive. I think you’ll see things elevate and people moving forward to see what they can do to help. And that’s from businesses to individuals.”