After helping hundreds of newcomers and refugees — including recent waves of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan — the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (EMCN) is now preparing for a significant influx of Ukrainian newcomers.
More than five million people have fled Ukraine since the war started.
Thousands of them will be coming to Canada and many of them are, or will be, living in the Edmonton region.
Meghan Klein, executive director of the not-for-profit charity, said the pandemic already put a strain on the work they did, and now with a large backlog of refugees and newcomers finally being able to come in, they are feeling overwhelmed.
"I do worry about being able to keep up with this pace," she told CBC's Radio Active on Wednesday.
Ukrainians arriving in Canada under the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) do not fall under refugees permanent residents. More than 180,000 applications have been submitted by Ukrainians to come under this program, according to the Immigration, Refugees Citizenship Canada website.
Of those 71,000 applications have already been approved.
Because coming through this program does not make Ukrainians refugees, they do not have access to key government supports offered for the first 12 months, which makes supports offered by organizations like the EMCN more important, Klein said.
"They'll be looking to us for support," Klein said.
In March, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser tweeted that the federal government will be expanding access to certain services for Ukrainians in Canada, including "language training, orientation, employment assistance and other supports," but Klein said they still don't know what that will look like.
She said EMCN and their sister agencies are still figuring how they are going to support those fleeing Ukraine, especially single-parent families.
"There's a lot of things still being worked out," she said.
In 2021, Edmonton Emergency Relief Services, another non-profit that offered a drop-in centre for clothes and household items and helped refugees and newcomers, shut down after the Alberta government ended its no-cost lease.
Klein said EERS was a unique service that offered a "starter life package" and although the EMCN opened a drop-in centre at their location on 82 Street, it is a temporary solution.
"It is a stopgap measure, nothing more than that, because we need a permanent solution," she said.
The drop-in is only open to refugees by referral at the moment.
Klein said she worries about her staff being burned out. Besides serving those arriving, the organization is also fielding calls from people who are already here and those wanting to help.
She said people in Edmonton have really come through to support refugees.
"We're overflowing with generous donations from the community," she said.
The organization is in need of volunteers and although they don't have enough space, they are still accepting donations as they continue to get hundreds of families who pick up household essentials.