Four Newfoundland and Labrador government employees have been sent to Warsaw in an attempt to recruit Ukrainian refugees — though most logistics regarding how many refugees will come, when they’ll arrive and how they’ll be supported are still being worked out.
According to a government media release Thursday, the team in Poland will host information sessions, connect Ukrainians with potential employers in the province and prioritize immigration nomination applications from those affected by the Russian invasion.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said most other details, like how many refugees could come and when they may arrive, are being finalized.
“Sending the desk over to work in tandem with the Canadian Embassy will allow us to get a better appreciation of how many are willing and knowledgeable about Canada and equally how many that we can help here,” he said.
The Department of Immigration previously set up a help desk for Newfoundland and Labrador residents looking for information on how to bring loved ones to the province.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than three million people have fled Ukraine since Russia began its invasion in February.
Furey said Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province to establish an office like this for Ukrainian refugees.
Federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser has previously said Canada will welcome an “unlimited number” of Ukrainian refugees, and provincial Immigration Minister Gerry Byrne has said Newfoundland and Labrador will welcome refugees with “open arms.”
Byrne said the province was able to set up the office because Canada is accepting an unlimited number of Ukrainian refugees, whereas during past refugee crises the government accepted only a set number.
Furey said he met with Fraser while he was in Ottawa on Tuesday, and he was “incredibly excited” about the province’s decision to open an office in Poland.
“They want to work with us to ensure that we are providing an opportunity for Ukrainians to settle temporarily or permanently,” he said.
Furey acknowledged that visas are a federal responsibility but said the Poland office would provide an important “point of first contact” for refugees deciding where to settle.
“We want to make sure that people who have been displaced from their own homes and in Ukraine know that Newfoundland and Labrador is a viable, sustainable option for them to come with their families,” he said.
Logistics being worked out
The Canadian government is waiving most visa requirements for Ukrainian refugees, but applicants will still have to supply biometrics and undergo a background screening process before leaving for Canada.
Since the process is still being finalized, Byrne said, he couldn’t give a timeframe for when refugees may begin arriving.
As for what assistance the government would be providing refugees, Furey said those details are being “worked out.”
“We thought it was incredibly important, first and foremost, to have people on the ground to get a better assessment of the situation,” he said.
Byrne said the government is also looking to create a database of local volunteers and employers willing to hire people coming from Ukraine. He said he’s already heard from people willing to open their homes or hire newcomers.
NDP Leader Jim Dinn told reporters the office in Poland is a good idea but said the government’s plan is “woefully short on details.”
“To bring people to this province without putting the proper supports in place is not a plan,” he said.
Dinn said he’s particularly concerned that teachers aren’t being given sufficient resources to support students who have experienced traumatic events and are in the process of adjusting to their new home.
“A number of the children are unable to speak the language, they’re dealing with trauma, they have learning gaps, and you’ve got a teacher who’s trying to deal with these issues, and that is not setting the children up for success.”