The Alberta government said it is committed to helping Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion to settle into the province but remains tight-lipped on helping refugees from other countries.
At a news conference on Wednesday morning, Premier Jason Kenney announced more than $2 million in additional funding as part of a rapid resettlement support program for Ukrainians coming to Alberta as temporary residents.
This will include immediate health coverage, language learning, adult learning programs and childcare. It will also include programs to help Ukrainians find work in Alberta.
“These individuals have already faced enough adversity in recent weeks and we need to be there to support them,” Kenney said.
“These are important measures to ensure that Ukrainians… are provided with the full spectrum of government and social support.”
However, the premier remained mum on providing support for refugees from other war-torn regions, sidestepping questions from reporters about the issue.
When pressed, Kenney said the province is working with the federal government to provide assistance for refugees from other countries.
“We work with the federal government to provide appropriate assistance for refugees… Legally (Ukrainians) are coming in as temporary residents and that is just to move the process faster,” he said.
“It means legally and technically they don’t benefit from the same things… Obviously, we can’t open this up to the entire world if this is a special, limited, discrete program.”
Kenney pointed to similar programs in the past, particularly when the Haiti earthquake happened when he was the federal immigration minister.
“We did allow folks who were here and could not return to access benefits while they were still temporary residents… That’s what’s different and unique about the situation: they’re not arriving in the formal legal sense as refugees,” he said.
NDP Labour and Immigration Critic Christina Gray commended the government’s commitment to helping Ukrainian citizens but raised concerns about equal treatment towards other refugees.
“There is no indication in the UCP’s plan that financial assistance will be provided equally across the province where refugees will be placed, leaving the potential for extreme gaps in resources for many communities,” Gray said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
“Some agencies who specialize in transitioning refugees in the province have contracts only with the federal government, and the UCP have not made any commitment to providing funds for agencies without provincial contracts.”
She also raised concerns about the lack of funding for K-12 schools to enroll new students arriving in the province.
“We know past refugee funding was approximately an additional $5,500 per child on top of base instructional funding,” Gray said. “I will be monitoring the rollout of this program closely, to ensure we are seeing the best possible outcome for Alberta’s new residents.”