For 56 days the Ukrainian-Russian war has been raging on, forcing roughly 4.5 million Ukrainians to flee their homes and country to seek asylum abroad.
The ongoing conflict sparked further action from the Province of Alberta on Wednesday, when Premier Jason Kenney announced several additional measures specific to Ukrainian refugees settling in the province.
The press conference held at the Taste of Ukraine, a family-run restaurant located in St. Albert, came with another $2 million worth of support.
The latest funding is earmarked as rapid settlement support, which includes health benefits and language services.
The Premier says while husbands, sons, brothers and fathers continue the fight to defend their territory and homes in Ukraine, Canada can potentially expect thousands to tens of thousands of displaced Ukrainian nationals to arrive in the country and in Alberta.
“People fleeing their country having left everything behind, who often will arrive here not speaking English and sometimes having no relatives or friends, are in significant need of immediate and comprehensive support so that they can begin to live secure lives here, but also cope with trauma and other challenges that they bring with them from the conflict,” said Kenney.
In additional to the financial package, the province also announced it will be providing immediate health coverage to all Ukrainians arriving through the federal program, as well as immediate enrollment in K-12 schools and access to language learner programs if necessary.
Ukrainian refugees with temporary residency status will also be provided with an Alberta identification card including drivers' licenses and supports to access important services like health care and banking services.
“We will be taking other additional steps, but we wanted to look at the full spectrum of government programs to ensure rapid access because these individuals have already faced enough adversity in recent weeks, and we need to be there to support them,” added Kenney.
Ukrainian immigration prioritized
Special considerations for Ukrainian immigration applications and job opportunities were also announced by the Minister of Labour and Immigration Kaycee Madu.
“For the future, Alberta's government is helping Ukrainians stay in our province by prioritizing their applications for permanent residency to the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program,” Madu said.
The province has also waived the application fee and service fees for new and existing applications made by Ukrainian nationals.
The Alberta Labour Information Service (ALIS), which provides career learning and employment information, as well as the Government of Canada’s Job Bank, now includes a search option for jobs specifically geared towards Ukrainians.
“As the situation changes, we will continue working closely with our federal counterpart communities and settlement service organizations to offer your Ukrainian nationals the support they need,” he added.
Advanced Education redirect funds to Adult Learning Partners
The Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides also announced that advanced education will be providing $1 million in additional funding to the province’s Community Adult Learning Partners (CALP).
CALP organizations help adult learners, including English as a second language learners, transition to further learning, prepare for jobs and help with social inclusion, said Nicolaides.
“Non-English speakers will need additional support to learn English and depending on their level of education, some may require additional literacy and numeracy support. Others may require academic upgrading to bolster their high school credentials and be able to achieve access to post-secondary education,” he explained.
“The funding announcement today will help our CALPs bolster this capacity and ensure Ukrainian newcomers have a smooth transition to life in Alberta.”
NDP opposition responds
Following the UCP government’s morning announcement, NDP Critic for Labour and Immigration Christina Gray voiced concerns of gaps in access and fair distribution of services.
“There is no indication in the UCP’s plan that financial assistance will be provided equally across the province where refugees will be placed, leaving the potential for extreme gaps in resources for many communities,” said Gray.
According to Gray, some agencies who specialize in transitioning refugees in the province have contracts only with the federal government.
She questions why the Alberta government has not made any commitment to providing funds for agencies without provincial contracts.
Further, Gray states that the education funding that is outlined through the adult learning programs is not tailored to the needs specific to this situation.
She would like to see a greater emphasis on the transition of educational credentials for Ukrainian refugees.
Another concern raised by Gray, that was also echoed during the press conference’s question period, was the costs associated with enrolling students in K-12 schools.
“I’m concerned that there isn’t any additional funding included for K-12 schools to enroll new students arriving in the province,” expressed Gray.
“As we know past refugee funding was approximately an additional $5,500 per child on top of base instructional funding.”
Kenney previously stated that the province will be providing additional ESL support to the school boards and arriving students.
“We appreciate that a lot of this has happened very quickly, and the schools and their principals have had to just provide services on the spot, but that's true for Ukrainian displaced kids all around the world, all across Europe,” said the Premier.
“Thankfully, most children are very resilient and adaptable, and they make new friends quickly and become sponges for the new language. But we will be providing that additional financial support as well – that is important.”
Aid delivered to date
Total contributions from the Province of Alberta to assist Ukraine and its people currently exceeds $13 million.
The province has provided $1 million to the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal, organized by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Canada Ukraine Foundation, to help coordinate and deliver humanitarian aid.
Another $5 million was given to the Ukrainian World Congress to equip 5,000 members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Force with defensive equipment.
The Canada Ukraine Foundation for additional humanitarian aid received $5 million in funding.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress Alberta Provincial Council received a further $350,000 for their campaign coordinating the air shipment of first aid and defensive equipment to Ukraine.
Information relating to all of the services announced by the province can be accessed at alberta.ca/Ukraine.