The national president of the Canadian Ukrainian Congress is calling on the federal government to do more to support refugees fleeing Russia’s war on the country.
“We are entirely unprepared,” Alexandra Chyczij said at the 24th annual Metropolis Canada Conference on the future of immigration, settlement and integration in downtown Vancouver on Thursday (March 24).
“Ninety per cent of those leaving Ukraine to the West are mothers and children. Fathers and husbands drive their precious cargo to the border, embrace them perhaps for the last time, and return to fight for their homeland… Despite this human catastrophe, the victims of this unprovoked war are not considered to be convention refugees.”
Convention refugees are defined as people who are fleeing their country and cannot return for fear of persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
“Why are they consigned to an international limbo? If Ukraine survives, most will go home. If not, they have no home to go to. So, where do they wait? What do they do? For how long? How do they survive? How can we help them and prevent them from falling prey to those who would further abuse, exploit or harm them?”
Federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Sean Fraser recorded a video address for the conference. In his address, Fraser touted the federal government’s efforts to bring Ukrainian refugees to Canada as quickly as possible.
“We created the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel. There will be no limit on the number of applications under this stream. This program provides the fastest way to welcome as many Ukrainians as possible and allows them to stay for a period of up to three years,” Fraser said.
Everyone who enters Canada through this program will be eligible to work and receive an education as soon as they arrive. The federal government is also offering a special family reunification sponsorship pathway for permanent residence administered through Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
However, Chyczij called the federal program “a tourist visa with a work permit attached”. and questioned how it would help women and children fleeing violence.
“Without the necessary supports, the visitor’s visa with a work permit is nothing more than a plan to fill Canada’s labour shortage disguised as humanitarian relief,” she said. “They need a hand extended in aid, not a hand extended with a mop or an apron.”
Chyczij said that refugees need access to a network of professionals including social workers, mental and physical health-care providers, teachers and refugee advocates to provide for the mental, emotional and material needs of refugees. She also called for an arrival plan, including an airlift and spaces for Ukrainians to quarantine when they arrive in Canada.
“We call on Minister Fraser to show that Canada truly stands with Ukraine and all other refugees not just with words, but with deeds.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes and 3.6 million have fled to neighbouring countries — a majority of Ukrainian refugees have fled to Poland.