Quebecers are preparing to welcome Ukrainian refugees and the Canadian chapters of major international organizations are calling for donations as the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its third week.
Joseph Belliveau is the executive director of the Canadian chapter of Doctors Without Borders, most often known by its French acronym MSF. He and his colleagues have been “working triple time” to scale up existing MSF operations in Ukraine to support access to health care for people affected by the conflict, particularly elderly people, those with chronic illness and migrants who have difficulty accessing the mainstream health system.
MSF has been present in Ukraine since 2014, supporting access to health care in areas affected by ongoing civil conflict between Ukrainians and pro-Russian separatists. “We could feel the tension rising…and we were checking backup stocks and making sure we had staff on standby, but frankly, we weren’t prepared for this particular moment and this particular scale of what’s happening,” he says. In light of the conflict, MSF is also training surgeons and providing trauma kits to hospitals. Its logistics experts are busy sourcing and distributing supplies.
Belliveau and others say that for people who are not experienced health care or disaster relief professionals, the best way to help is through a financial donation. The federal government recently announced its intention to match donations to the Canadian Red Cross up to a total of $10 million.
“We are supporting the Ukrainian Red Cross and the Red Cross in surrounding countries – we have sent more than 31,000 care packages and $25 million so far,” says Jean-Baptiste Lacombe, spokesperson for the Canadian Red Cross Ukraine crisis response. “I know people want to send supplies, but [in-kind donations] are a lot harder to manage than financial donations; if you had to leave your home, would you rather receive cash to buy the things you need or receive donated supplies? We can transfer the funds to where they’re most needed.”
For those who are unable to make a financial contribution, David Morley of UNICEF Canada suggests writing to your MP or MNA to support Canada’s work in international development. “If people write to their [elected officials] and let them know they support development spending, that’s a great opportunity for Canada to take moral leadership on these issues,” he says.
Federal immigration minister Sean Fraser said last week that Canada is preparing to welcome an “unlimited number” of Ukrainian refugees, many of whom may already have family in this country.
Those that arrive in Canada without an existing support network are helped by a resettlement organization such as the Sherbrooke-based Service d’aide aux néo-canadiens (SANC). Along with more than 80 organizations across the province, SANC is a member of the Table de concertation des organismes au service des réfugiés et des immigrants (TCRI).
Stephan Reichhold is the executive director of the TCRI. “We are not expecting a massive influx of people into Quebec given that many European countries have opened their doors…but those who do arrive will need psychological support and support finding housing and jobs and putting their children in school… and our member organizations will address that.”
SANC communications officer Luz Stella Hernandez told BCN that her organization had not received any concrete information from the provincial or federal government, but “if the government asks us to [resettle Ukrainian refugees] we can do it.”
“Usually the Canadian government doesn’t want people to come here first and finish their paperwork later,” Reichhold added, referring to the simplified visa obtention process to which Ukrainians with family in Canada will have access. “Now, it’s suddenly possible to get people to safety first and then do their papers. In the past, Haitians had to wait for over a year in terrible conditions after the  earthquake to get visas, and now Ukrainians will be able to leave right away. We’re pleased with that precedent.”
Reichhold invited people interested in volunteering to help refugees to contact the SANC or a resettlement organization in their region directly. However, he said donations to international organizations might address more pressing needs. “People coming here will have access to alot of resources,” he says. “Ukraine is where the donations are needed now.”