Ukrainian newcomers to Canada struggle to make ends meet


Toronto-

Sabina Abilova and Andrii Koziura sit at the dinner table in their basement apartment, laptops open, looking for jobs that might help them pay next month’s rent.

The Ukrainian newcomers arrived in Toronto just weeks ago, seeking to escape conflict in their country, and have exhausted their savings in the face of the high cost of living in the city.

“The prices here are quite high,” Abilova, 28, says in an interview. “If we don’t find jobs, we won’t be able to stay here for long.”

The cost of housing is proving to be one of the main issues for newcomers from Ukraine who arrive under a special federal program announced in March that allows them to work or study in Canada for three years.

Abilova and Koziura were vacationing in Argentina when Russia began invading Ukraine in February. The couple decided to apply to come to Canada since Abilova’s sister was already living in Toronto, having arrived as a student eight years ago.

Getting approved under the program was relatively easy, but getting information and support on issues like housing, transit and employment was difficult, Abilova says.

“In Ukraine we had a pretty good and normal life and now we have to go everywhere for help, asking for help, discounts and everything and it’s not a good situation,” she says.

“It’s difficult because I didn’t expect Canada to be like this.”

Abilova and Koziura now live in a two-bedroom basement apartment in west Toronto with Abilova’s mother and 13-year-old brother, who already had visitor visas for Canada before the war started. .

They pay $2,000 in rent a month and currently rely on their savings to pay for expenses, Koziura says.

The couple applied for a monthly social support payment of $600 from the Ontario government and a one-time payment of $3,000 from the federal government while seeking employment, he says.

Koziura, 27, says he previously worked as a software product manager in Ukraine and hopes to find a job in his field.

“Our original plan was to come here, stay here for a few months and figure out where we were going to stay, how easy it is to stay in Canada, and we haven’t been able to find a job yet,” says- he.

“The situation with the war is quite tricky. We don’t know when it will end. And we don’t know what our long-term plans are. Are we going to receive citizenship here… are we going back home?”

Ihor Michalchyshyn, executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, says housing is the number one challenge facing newcomers from Ukraine, especially in Ontario.

Federally funded refugee settlement agencies are technically not allowed to help newcomers from Ukraine find housing because those who arrive under the special program are not recognized as refugees, he says.

“They don’t have access to the same, say, full suites or full services that a refugee from anywhere would have,” he says.

“We could call them refugees, (but) they are not technically, legally in the eyes of government-funded agencies, refugees.”

His organization and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants wrote to federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser last month asking him to allow settlement agencies to use federal funds to support housing costs. Ukrainian newcomers.

Michalchyshyn says her organization has also lobbied for income support for newcomers from Ukraine.

A spokeswoman for Fraser says the federal government has a program that provides Ukrainian newcomers with one-time financial assistance of $3,000 per adult and $1,500 per child.

“These funds will help Ukrainian nationals and their family members meet their basic needs, such as transportation and longer-term housing, when they arrive in communities across Canada and find employment,” said wrote Aidan Strickland in a statement.

“We recognize that major urban centers across Canada are currently facing challenges securing temporary housing this summer, as well as housing challenges both from an affordability and availability perspective.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, says the special program for Ukrainians has the advantage of being open to an unlimited number of people, but does not come with the support that government-assisted refugees usually receive.

“From a political point of view, it has the advantage of being very fast and being open,” she said in an interview.

“People (Ukrainians) can be ‘okay, well, we’ll come to Canada and we can meet all our needs’, but they weren’t necessarily informed or didn’t realize that everything they were getting a work permit and a visitor visa. They don’t have a whole support system.”

Michalchyshyn of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress says the housing situation for Ukrainian newcomers is more difficult in Ontario than in other provinces. The average monthly rental price for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto was $2,133 in June, according to data from Rentals.ca, compared to $1,538 in Montreal and $1,669 in Halifax.

“Probably more than 60% of (Ukrainians) in Canada arrive in Toronto, GTA, and then…have trouble finding any kind of accommodation,” he says.

Ukrainian community groups, including churches and community agencies and organizations, are trying to find foster families, empty apartments and places in emergency shelters, he says.

“There’s just very high demand and very low availability,” he says.

Ontario Labor Minister Monte McNaughton, who is responsible for immigration, says his ministry is working with other ministries and municipalities to support these Ukrainians.

“Certainly it is a challenge,” he said in an interview.

“We are working with our municipal partners…to identify housing inventory so that these people have safe shelter and a safe place here in Ontario.”

According to the federal government, 55,488 Ukrainians arrived in Canada between January 1 and June 26.

The government says it received 343,283 applications under the new program for Ukrainians between March 17 and June 28, and 146,461 were approved.


– with files by Holly McKenzie-Sutter.


This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 10, 2022.


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