The Refugee Centre launches a new campaign for Ukrainian students

The initiative provides Ukrainian students with legal assistance and wellness support

Legal assistance and wellness support among services offered to Ukrainian students by TRC. Photo Courtesy Abdulla Daoud

The Refugee Centre has launched a campaign to offer its legal clinic services for Ukrainian students navigating the complex legal landscape of the war in Ukraine.

The Refugee Centre is a non-profit organization providing support services to refugees entering Canada. Their services include language classes, employment aid, legal aid, and wellness support. The organization is launching a campaign to assist Ukrainian students and provide legal aid for Ukrainians within and outside the country. Through this campaign, students are being provided one-on-one meetings with lawyers and translators. 

TRC Executive Director Abdulla Daoud said the Ukrainian situation is unique and different from cases TRC has typically dealt with . “It is a new challenge. It's a set of different regulations that we have to study and adhere to,” Daoud said. 

Pierre-Luc Bouchard, TRC legal consultant, said Ukrainian asylum-seekers are not officially considered refugees in Canada because they do not fit the country's legal definition. To fall under this definition, new arrivals are deemed refugees when they have suffered persecution by their former government or when this government cannot protect them from a group within their country. Since the Ukrainian government is still active despite the invasion, Ukrainians do not fit into either category.

In response to the Russian invasion, Canada’s Immigration Minister Sean Fraser launched a temporary residence program for Ukrainians fleeing the country. Ukrainians can apply for an accelerated visitor visa that is valid for a three year period.

Once the three-year residency expires, Bouchard said, the future of these individuals in Canada is still unclear. “Nobody knows [what will happen],” Bouchard said. 

“This is an ongoing thing, but hopefully, soon enough, the picture starts to become a bit clearer,” Daoud added.

A team of TRC lawyers is instructing and training Ukrainians on how to enter Canada through the government's newly announced program. The centre is helping Ukrainian people integrate into the country by assisting them with Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec and welfare applications. TRC also offers assistance with case-specific issues such as errors in visa applications. In addition to their legal services,The Refugee Centre provides student wellness support through a trauma-based psychological approach. 

Bouchard and his team have been monitoring the situation on a daily basis. He said the government has left many questions unanswered, causing additional stress for Ukrainian people. “They want answers right away,” he stated. 

With the influx of displaced Ukrainians, Bouchard said  TRC’s legal team has seen a significant increase in legal aid requests. These new demands come in addition to existing refugee cases from other countries. “We still have a lot of families from Nicaragua. We still have a lot of families from the countries of Africa,” Bouchard said.

Daoud said Concordia has a large Ukrainian community. “Given what happened, there was a good amount of outreach to us from different individuals, students, and families of students who are trying to find out what's going on,” he added. 

TRC’s campaign has received positive feedback and has been helpful to students thus far.. “The students themselves who have leveraged these services,” Daoud said. “I think they are appreciative of it.”

Daoud explained that Concordia students have utilised TRC’s Ukraine initiative services for various reasons. According to Daoud, a majority of Ukrainian students inquire about their legal status in Canada. Daoud said some Ukrainian students at Concordia no longer have access to their bank accounts and others still have families in Ukraine who need help in bringing them to Canada.

Bouchard added that some Ukrainian students have been struggling with their student fees. Difficulty contacting family in Ukraine to transfer funds and restricted bank account access has made it difficult for these students to meet tuition deadlines. 

Eduardo Malorni, Concordia's Student Union General Coordinator, said Concordia University is brainstorming new ideas to help these students. Malorni said Concordia has mentioned the idea of delayed payment deadlines, potential loans and grant creation for Ukrainian and Russian students as possible solutions. 

“But nothing right now has been confirmed. There is no set rule right now by the university,” Malorni said. For now, the university has accommodated these students on a case-by-case basis, according to Malorni. 

He emphasized the importance of raising awareness to encourage Ukrainian students to use the available services. The university has been offering Ukrainian students direct support through the International Students Office, which has meeting times available to discuss healthcare and financial support options. 

Ukrainian students in need of TRC’s services can book an appointment online, and contact the centre by email or by phone at 514-846-0005.