Refugees from Ukraine will arrive in N.L. within days. Here's where preparations stand

·3 min read
Ukrainian refugees rest in a Polish train station in April, after fleeing Ukraine. Russia invaded the country in February.  (Hannah McKay/Reuters - image credit)
Ukrainian refugees rest in a Polish train station in April, after fleeing Ukraine. Russia invaded the country in February. (Hannah McKay/Reuters - image credit)
Hannah McKay/Reuters
Hannah McKay/Reuters

Newfoundland and Labrador volunteers are getting ready for the first plane of refugees to arrive May 9 from war-torn Ukraine, and are making sure that the necessities of life, toiletries and food will be on hand.

"All that to make sure they're comfortable and safe and secure when they arrive in the province," said Association of New Canadians executive director Megan Morris.

"It's a really intensive planning process to prepare for next week."

Immigration Minister Gerry Byrne says there is capacity for 175 seats on Monday's flight, although the final number of confirmed passengers is still unknown.

The province has a team of four employees in Poland helping refugees with support and the documentation required to move them to Newfoundland and Labrador. Officials hope Monday's fight will be the first of many.

"We're now working with the federal government that is also considering a charter in the coming weeks," said Byrne.

At least 1.5 million people fled Ukraine soon after Russia invaded the country in February, triggering an international humanitarian response.

Adam Walsh/CBC
Adam Walsh/CBC

Building on past crises

The Association for New Canadians is building on its past experience to meet the current crisis.

"We're hoping to stand up an operation similar to what we did when the Afghans arrived in St. John's," said Morris, referring to refugees who arrived in St. John's last October, soon after the Taliban took control of Aghanistan.

"We're meeting with provincial partners, the various federal partners that should be involved."

In addition to providing necessities and information, the ANC is looking into housing for the refugees, something Morris said is going slower than usual due to high demand.

"If we can't find housing, we try to get a little more innovative. We've also worked with some very generous landlords who've come forward and said they want to help. There's lots of goodwill in the community and our team is really used to coming up with housing and making sure they find accommodation."

Mark Cumby/CBC
Mark Cumby/CBC

From pandemic gear to refugee networking

Meanwhile, an organization that originally formed to help source masks and protective gear during the COVID-19 pandemic, TaskforceNL, is pivoting toward helping the refugees connect with employers once they have arrived.

The group is working with the Department of Immigration and Multiculturalism to match skilled refugees with employment opportunities. Executive director Constanza Safatle said there is already a need in the province for workers, and that this serves both purposes.

"Businesses are closing because employers don't have enough staff to work day by day. We need to connect them," said Safatle.

Courtney Rowsell, the group's manager and community liaison, said it has been in contact with 79 companies across the province.

"We want to create an employer community where employers can stay engaged with each other, learn best practices, and stay connected to ensure that we're creating a fostering an ecosystem that's welcoming to newcomers," said Rowsell.

"Today the focus is on Ukrainians, but the long term focus is just on all newcomers who are coming to the province and creating that supportive, inclusive employer base to help guide through that process."

Outpouring of support

But before that happens, the refugees need to arrive.

Morris said the ANC is in the process of looking for a warehouse-style site to accommodate donations.

"The community in St. John's and across the island is incredibly generous. And you've seen that throughout this entire discussion around the Ukraine. So people are donating and we're actually looking for space right now to stand up a larger donation centre because we know that we're going to be receiving a lot of donations from the public."

Morris said the group is "definitely" prepared for the weeks to come.

"The province has really stepped up to ensure that people feel welcome here and know that they're very much wanted here.

"I expect there will be more people. Absolutely," she said."There already are people here."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting