Jennifer McLaughlin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
As the war in Ukraine ravages into its sixth month, York Region is among the hundreds of Canadian communities opening its doors to welcome Ukraine refugees seeking safety.
Thousands of Ukrainian citizens are arriving under the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) federal program.
CUAET grants a free visitor visa to stay in Canada for up to three years, versus the standard six-month period for visitor visas. The program also offers the opportunity to apply for an open work permit.
The Government of Canada confirms on its website that as of August 7, the Canada Border Services Agency reported almost 72,000 individuals arriving from Ukraine. As of August 3, the federal government had approved over 180,000 of approximately 456,000 CUAET applications.
Joseph Silva, director of strategies and partnerships for York Region, outlines the resources available to maximize support for Ukrainian refugees settling in the area.
A newcomer website provides valuable information about settlement programs, transit, health care, emergency services, schooling, job opportunities, local government, and recreation and leisure activities. The website also gives access to the York Region Newcomer Guide translated into Ukrainian.
Five accessible Welcome Centres located along primary public transit routes in north and south Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, and Vaughan offer in-person services, plus phone and email support. A Mobile Outreach Unit services northern York Region and Simcoe County.
Visit york.ca/supportukraine for information.
Access York, York Region’s corporate contact centre, is available to respond to inquiries of any kind, and translation services are available as needed.
“If you have anyone who’s looking for supports like emergency income assistance or child care fee subsidy, or how to connect with any of these areas, contact Access York,” urged Katherine Chislett, commissioner of community and health services for York Region, at a recent council meeting.
Contact Access York at 1-877-464-9675 or accessyork.ca for assistance.
There are a variety of ways for residents, organizations, and businesses to help. The Privately Sponsored Refugee (PSR) program allows private groups to sponsor refugees, providing financial, social, and emotional support. Visit canada.ca for information.
Numerous organizations accept monetary and in-kind donations for Ukrainians settling here or dealing with the war at home. Visit ocasi.org if you can offer housing to refugees through the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI). Local businesses and organizations can connect with the York Region Welcome Centres at welcomecentre.ca to advertise employment opportunities for newcomers.
Volunteering, whether for the social and community service organizations supporting newcomers in York Region or for an organization aiding the overseas mission in Ukraine, is another invaluable way to help.
And every resident can make a difference simply by being welcoming and inclusive. Helping newcomers feel they belong as they settle into the community can eliminate some of the added stress of navigating life in a new place.
Photo: The Markham South Welcome Centre at 7220 Kennedy Road, Markham, is one of five Welcome Centres in York Region that offers a wide range of services for newcomers.