Galen Simmons Stratford Beacon Herald Published Feb 16, 2023
As donor and volunteer fatigue begins to take its toll and international news outlets warn of the potential for renewed Russian aggression in Ukraine, the Multicultural Association of Perth Huron and a collective of community groups in the region that assist with refugee resettlement are calling on the federal government for more support.
Leaders with the Local Immigration Partnership, which helps with newcomer and refugee resettlement across Perth, Huron, Bruce, Oxford, Wellington and Middlesex counties, held a Thursday press conference at Stratford’s The Bruce Hotel to highlight the challenges they’re facing in their ongoing efforts to resettle Ukrainian refugees locally.
“We’ve helped out (Ukrainian refugees) for almost one year,” multicultural association executive director Geza Wordofa said. “For one year, we (relied on donors, host families) and our volunteer base. Now we are asking the federal government to step up and help us.”
Wordofa said the short-term help from the multicultural association and its community partners has assisted someUkrainian refugees find work and permanent housing, but others, like 71-year-old Liudmyla Spynova, continue to rely on provided supports
Speaking with the help of a translator, Spynova said Thursday she has lived in several different homes, each in a different local community, for a span of a few months at a time since arriving in Canada last year. Because she’s retired and living with an illness that prevents her from working, she needs financial and other supports to continue living here after losing her retirement income, savings and possessions as a result of the war in Ukraine.
While the multicultural association and its partners continue to support the Ukrainian refugees who can’t support themselves, Wordofa said more are arriving every week, sometimes unexpectedly, and are in need of transportation, temporary housing, food, financial assistance, help filling out paperwork and other supports.
“Our donors have been far more generous than anyone could reasonably expect,” association accountant Steve Landers said. “They’ve given us accommodations and supplies and money. They’ve been wonderful, but there comes a point where you can’t keep going to that well. Recently, we’ve had people come where we didn’t even know they were coming. They just suddenly showed up and they’re here. They expect the association to get them located some place and look after them. … We need assistance. If the federal government is going to continue this Ukrainian refugee program, we need assistance in locating people and putting them up in hotels and finding them accommodation.”
Mike Benti, a refugee resettlement co-ordinator for the Local Immigration Partnership in Perth and Wellington counties, said local volunteers can only provide “short-term solutions.”
“When refugees come to this area, host families give them three months, four months (of housing) or something like that. If these people can work, they can save money to support their families, but elderly people, children, people with mental or physical illnesses cannot work. The government has to give some assistance for these people (beyond what they already do),” he said.
As the temporary housing agreements with host families expire, donations begin to dry up so volunteers start spending out of pocket on necessities like gas for transportation, food and supplies for refugees, association officials said. Wordofa said local resettlement groups are reaching their breaking points. Meanwhile, he said Ukrainians like Spynova, whose income is limited to what they receive through the federal government’s Refugee Assistance Program, are considering returning to war-torn Ukraine despite the danger if they can’t get the basics needed to create a life here.
“One year into the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Government of Canada does not have a clear or comprehensive process for accepting refugees into Canada,” Perth-Wellington MP John Nater told the Beacon Herald by email. “Eleven months ago, members of the House of Commons committee on citizenship and immigration called on the government to support Ukrainians and people residing in Ukraine who are impacted by the war and ensure that it is prepared to process immigration applications on an urgent basis. Still, not nearly enough has been done. Local municipalities and organizations are working tirelessly to do everything possible to assist the individuals and families from Ukraine who have arrived in our community, but they are facing an increasing financial burden.
“The federal government must address and deal with these financial pressures.”