Canada extended its helping hand even further today to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion of their homeland, even as calls mount for the similar and equal treatment for refugees from other countries.
Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) Minister, Sean Fraser, said of the120,000 applications received under the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program since last month, over 41,000 Ukrainians have been processed to enter Canada.
“We’ll continue to work alongside our provincial and territorial partners, settlement organizations, and the Canadian-Ukrainian community,” he said at a Vancouver media event today, where new supports for Ukrainian refugees coming to British Columbia were announced.
Among the new supports include the expansion of the bc211 multilingual telephone service operated by United Way.
Available 24 hours a day, bc211 is a multilingual service that connects people to more than 15,500 free social supports, services, and community programs throughout the province.
“Expanding services to include bc211 marks our next step in supporting Ukrainians arriving in British Columbia with the services they need,” said Nathan Cullen, BC Minister of Municipal Affairs.
“United Way’s experienced approach in handling crises will help expand Service BC’s phone line, ensuring we’re able to support more people and families arriving from Ukraine in accessing newcomer supports as well as assist in co-ordinating the incredible generosity of British Columbians,” he said.
“Service BC has received hundreds of calls for support over the past week, and we know that demand will increase as more displaced Ukrainians arrive on our shores,” said Lisa Beare, BC Minister of Citizens’ Services.
Additional supports for Ukrainian settlement
In addition to the expansion of United Way British Columbia’s services, the province has ensured more supports are available to help Ukrainians settle in B.C., including:
- access to free employment services and supports available through 102 WorkBC Centres, including skills training, employment counselling and access to the WorkBC provincial job board with more than 49,000 job postings, job application tips and career tools.
- school districts are free to enroll K-12 students from Ukraine and can waive additional fees they might have for extracurricular activities, such as music or soccer camps, where the financial situation of the family necessitates it.
- affordable and no-cost mental-health resources for children, youth, and their families from community counselling providers throughout British Columbia; and
- ensuring Ukrainians arriving though the CUAET program are eligible for domestic tuition at public post-secondary institutions. As well, post-secondary institutions are delivering access to on-campus supports, including mental-health, accommodation, and financial assistance, such as emergency grants or tuition deferrals.
Inequitable barriers for non-Ukrainian refugees
Today’s event comes in the wake of a statement by the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship calling on the government to extend the special immigration measures afforded to Ukrainian nationals to other regions faced with a humanitarian crisis such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Hong Kong, and the displacement of Rohingya from Myanmar.
The Committee called on the immigration minister to ensure that Canada’s response to ongoing humanitarian crises in different regions are “treated with the same vigor as Ukraine.”
Among the witnesses who testified at the committees’ hearings prior to the statement being issued was Ahmad Sayed, an interpreter for the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan.
“All we are asking for is that our families be treated the same as Ukrainian nationals. We understand what they are going through, and we support them wholeheartedly. They are trying to escape the violence and death inflicted by the Russians. We have been there. Now, our family members are trying to escape the Taliban. Are our lives not worth the same as Ukrainian nationals?” Sayed testified.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, last July, committed to bring in 40,000 refugees fleeing the Taliban, including Afghans who had worked for the Canadian military. Less than a quarter have arrived in Canada since.
Jenny Kwan, the NDP Immigration critic, said the government has recently asked Afghan interpreters to complete even more bureaucratic red tape before they can bring their families to safety in Canada.
“In an email to Afghan interpreters, the government says they have 30 days to submit additional documents, or their families’ applications may be refused. The families have already submitted abundant documentation. Now, eight months later, the government is putting up more hurdles for the families,” she said.
“Former Afghan interpreters are part of the Canadian military family — they deserve recognition…Afghan interpreters and their families have gone through enough,” said Kwan.
Racism in refugee policies
Rémi Larivière, a spokesperson for IRCC, told New Canadian Media the situation involving Ukrainian and Afghan refugees are complex and different.
She said CUAET is a temporary residency pathway to Canada, and not the permanent resettlement pathway reserved for refugees.
“We continue to process applications for Afghans who are inside of Afghanistan as well as individuals who may be in third countries. For clients whose cases are complex, their processing will take longer as we work to receive information and work through their application,” said Larivière.
“The reality is that there are obstacles facing us in Afghanistan that were not present in other large-scale resettlement efforts…We are doing everything we can, and using all available avenues to help Afghans inside and outside of Afghanistan.”
NCM reported that while many are applauding Canada’s outpouring of humanitarian support for the nearly two million refugees who have fled Ukraine since the Russian attack of Feb. 24, Canadians remain sharply critical of the unequal treatment given to displaced people from other war-torn lands such as Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, and Iraq.
“This is racism to the core,” said Professor Nour El Kadri, of the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa.
He pointed out that while Canada promised to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees during the Syrian crisis in 2015 and 40,000 Afghans after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, it has not set any limit for Ukrainian refugees.
A recent Angus Reid Institute study also showed that when it comes to welcoming refugees, more Canadians are willing to open their hearts and homes to those fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine than those escaping the Syrian civil war.
“Canada’s inequitable refugee policy reflects more than laziness on behalf of the government — it carries the weight of a racist, and unfortunately common, rhetoric circulating mainstream media: That Ukrainian refugees, the majority of them white Christian Europeans, will better fit into Canadian society,” Dima Kiwan, a second-year undergraduate student at McGill University, wrote in a recent op-ed for the McGill Tribune.