The Canadian government is fast-tracking immigration for an unlimited number of Ukrainian refugees. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 2.1 million people have fled the war in Ukraine so far.
Preparing for a potential influx of people looking for a new home, organizations and cities across Quebec are readying services for their eventual arrival.
“They will need a lot of help because they didn’t choose to leave their country,” said Roxanne Bourgault, CARI St-Laurent reception coordinator.
The non-profit organization for immigrants has worked with Ukrainians before and they’re ready to do it again.
“We are trying to prepare on each and every level,” said Nisrin Al Yahya, CARI St-Laurent general manager.
Employees at CARI St-Laurent are experienced in working with people fleeing war-torn countries. They don’t know when Ukrainians will arrive but say they don’t expect Canada to welcome refugees for another few months based on previous experience.
“We hope that we can receive those people as soon as we can because we know … every day and every hour counts for these people,” said Jocelyn Chouinard, CARI St-Laurent assistant director.
According to the Union des Municipalités du Québec, 14 cities wish to welcome Ukrainians. Those include Montréal, Québec, Trois-Rivières, Laval, Longueuil, Sherbrooke, Gatineau, Granby, Victoriaville, Joliette, Saint-Hyacinthe, Drummondville, Saint-Jérôme et Rimouski.
Laval hopes to accept up to 2,000 refugees.
“I think it’s our duty to, you know, to welcome those people. We have the chance to live in a very prosperous city. So let’s share that chance,” said Laval mayor Stéphane Boyer.
Laval is working with community groups and people in the health and education sectors on an action plan. It is even considering putting refugees up in hotels that have been left empty by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the meantime, the city created the email address firstname.lastname@example.org for citizens who want to help.
“We have already received people saying they can translate, they can give jobs, they are ready to give a roof for some families,” said Boyer.
Donations are piling up at Ukrainian churches across Montreal. Mayor Valérie Plante visited one in Rosemont Wednesday.
“Since day one what we did it is to work with our Bureau d’intégration des nouveaux immigrants. That’s the function of the bureau really, to support when people are arriving in Montreal,” said Plante.
Whenever Ukrainians do arrive, she says there will be no shortage of solidarity.
“We have such a big Ukrainian community we will be able to welcome them with open arms and a big heart because that’s what they need right now,” Plante said.