WATCHING THE MOUNTING RUSSIAN TROOPS on Ukraine’s borders is ominous. Military actions, escalating bombings, and armed conflict grows every day. And with war comes refugees.
Whatever the source of war and conflict, civilians pay a huge price. People flee to try to avoid the worst of it.
Of the 26 million refugees in the world today, half come from just four countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and South Sudan. Each of these countries have had a different type of conflict, but in the end, the result is the same. Civilians flee untenable situations.
Ukrainians will flee too. If the conflict continues, Ukrainians will become the next mass wave of refugees.
And if they come, Canada needs to be ready to receive them with open arms.
Canada and Ukraine have a very close connection. Outside of Ukraine and Russia, Canada has the third largest number of people with Ukrainian roots. Wave after wave of migration since the 1890’s has meant Canada, especially in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, have large numbers of people who trace their roots back to Ukraine.
Overall, four per cent of Canada’s population have roots in Ukraine, with highest numbers in Manitoba (15 per cent) and Saskatchewan (13 per cent). Here in B.C., five per cent have links to Ukraine.
As the Russia continues to shake its saber, the people of Ukraine must be thinking of leaving. Just like people from Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and South Sudan. If they leave, they will take the easiest path. Some will flee by foot, over borders of neighboring countries like Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. Some will flee by boat, across the Black Sea. If commercial airlines or military evacuations are available, some will go by plane.
But in the past, no matter where refugees came from, only a small number of countries let significant numbers of refugees in. Turkey, Uganda, Pakistan, and Germany are some of the countries who host refugees in the millions.
Canada is not one of those countries.
Canada has a strong history of settling refugees, topping the list of countries allowing refugees to come and become permanent residents. In 2019, it allowed 30,000 to settle in Canada and begin a new life. But that number is a fraction of the total number of refugees. In the same period, Germany hosted 1.2 million refugees.
Canada lets in the largest numbers who can stay, but when wave upon wave of refugees are leaving a country, Canada is not one of those who lets them in. Canada resettles refugees, but it does not host refugees in significant numbers like Germany does.
If Ukrainians start to flee their country, will things change? Will Canada switch from being a country of resettlement, to a country of true refuge.
It is admirable that Canada allows so many refugees to settle. Earlier this month, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced a new multi-year plan for over 75,000 refugees and protected persons in 2022. That number will include people displaced from Syria, South Sudan and the like. There is no plan for Ukraine.
Ukraine’s population is 44 million. If even a tenth of their country fled, there would be 4 million refugees. What will Canada do? What will Canada do when thousands upon thousands of Ukrainians start walking across their borders to safety. Will we sit back and do nothing, or will we become a country of true refuge like Germany did for the Syrians?
War, if it comes, will be a time for Canada to remember who we are. And part of who we are is a strong link to Ukraine. Let’s not forget that when they need refuge.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.