Apr. 4, 2022

Nanaimo can provide a warm welcome to new immigrants

There is a world-wide humanitarian crisis that impacts all off us. Canada has pledged to welcome 9,000 Ukrainian refugees. More than four million women and children and seniors have fled to other countries as Russia continues it’s criminal invasion of Ukraine. We don’t know the depth of the possible impact on Canada or B.C. and specifically Nanaimo. 

Former city councillor Diane Brennan and I discussed how we as a community can play a role and then made a presentation to Nanaimo city council on April 4. We were joined by Mikaela Torres, Executive Director Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society. 

This is the closest look we’ve ever had at a war – live television reports and social media take us right to the front lines where we can see the devastation. Homes are being bombed along with schools, day care centres, hospitals and seniors homes, targeting civilians at random, hundreds at a time. It is devastating to millions of people. 

The refugees coming out of this war are different than in any past war. They are mothers and their children and seniors. They are fleeing with only the bare necessities they can stuff into a backpack. Families are without fathers who have been conscripted to stay behind and fight for their country.

Many refugees are being absorbed in Europe, specifically Poland which has been the epicentre. But they will be spread around the world, Canada included. ​Canada border agency says more than 3,000 Ukrainians have already arrived in Canada since the start of the war on Feb. 24.

We have not seen any arrive in Nanaimo. The first priority for resettlement is always in communities where refugees would feel most at home, those with existing Ukrainian populations. 

Our own Immigrant Settlement office in Nanaimo expects up to 50 individuals per year from all refugees and immigrants from various countries.

Our federal government is issuing special visas, for a three-year stay in Canada, after which many of them would be expected to return to their homeland. That’s not an unreasonable conclusion because the makeup of the refugee groups – mothers and children.

There is no guarantee that families will be reunited after the war, if that ever happens. The life expectancy on the military front lines is low.

Some disrupted families may choose to stay in Canada. Even if adult refugees want to return to their homes in Ukraine, by the time that three-year visa expires, there will be lots of children who have aged to the point of being Canadianized. Solid roots can be established in that time. Will they want to return to a place where they have only nightmarish memories?

As well, there’s a big question about what will they have to go home to? I am in contact with some aid workers in Ukraine, and they report that all the infrastructure is obliterated, entire towns and villages are gone. And how many will want to go back and live under a Russian dictatorship?

After a safe life in Canada, which already has a large population of Ukrainian descent, will they want to stay here and bring separated family members to Canada as immigrants rather than returning?

This is a focus on the Ukrainian situation because they are forefront because it’s an active situation. Nanaimo has many immigrants from countless other countries as well. The federal government has said it will take in up to 40,000 Afghanistan refugees as well as 9,000 Ukrainians. There are many others.

We asked city council to renew a past program that saw an official welcome to newcomers from other countries. That appears to have disappeared during the COVID period and we are hopeful and confident that it will be restored by city council.