Easing requirements could reduce refugee backlog

When it comes to accepting refugees from war-torn countries such as Ukraine, Canada is quick to make big promises. Unfortunately for the refugees, this country’s actions often don’t live up to its word.

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Opinion

When it comes to accepting refugees from war-torn countries such as Ukraine, Canada is quick to make big promises. Unfortunately for the refugees, this country’s actions often don’t live up to its word.

Ottawa announced on March 17 it would make it easier for Ukrainians fleeing war by introducing an accelerated temporary residence pathway that would expedite visas and temporary residency permits. “Canada will offer safe haven to your families while you fight on the front lines of a war to defend your freedom to the benefit of the entire world,” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser pledged to Ukrainians at the time.

But the admission of Ukrainian refugees under the plan has since slowed to a trickle, according to a study by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy released last Thursday. It said some other countries such as Ireland are settling Ukrainian refugees at a much greater rate than is Canada.

The refugees whom Canada is disappointing don’t only come from Ukraine. The scenario seems familiar enough to suggest a pattern. There are still tens of thousands of privately-sponsored Syrian refugees in crowded camps waiting to settle in Canada. And Canada had vowed to bring 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada but, by March, it had resettled only 9,000.

ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser

Meanwhile, the backlog of Ukrainians trying to come to Canada is growing. As of June 22, 190,000 Ukrainian refugees were waiting, up from about 140,000 a month earlier.

The report released last week calls for Canada to revise its policies to permit faster and easier access for refugees. It cites Ireland as an example of a country with immigration policies agile enough to accommodate emergency situations such as the invasion of Ukraine.

Ireland, with a population of about five million people, has already taken in more than 40,000 Ukrainian refugees. They’ve been housed in volunteers’ homes, hotels, convents and student halls.

The reason Ireland has been so effective in helping Ukraine refugees is that it completely dropped its visa requirements, using an exceptional measure activated by the European Union that allowed member states to waive visa requirements for refugees for up to three years.

Most people arriving in Ireland from Ukraine are classified as lone women with children because men aged 18 to 60, which is considered the age for military conscription, were not allowed to leave their country after Russia invaded in February.

By contrast with Ireland’s open-door welcome, Canada has a list of about 300,000 refugees who have applied for temporary resident visas. Officials are whittling away at the backlog at a glacial pace that frustrates both the refugees, many of whom are waiting in inhumane conditions, and the Canadians who are ready and willing to offer personal support to people who desperately need it.

Countries such as Canada that remain reluctant to follow Ireland’s lead by abolishing the requirement for visas often cite the need for a thorough screening process that identifies possible spies and criminals.

Rather than obtaining visas before coming to Canada, refugees who arrive at the airport would wait for a short time while government officials process them with risk assessments and background checks before granting temporary approval.

But as suggested by Robert Falconer, author of the University of Calgary report, what makes such a shift possible is implementing a measure called “the on-arrival model.” Rather than obtaining visas before coming to Canada, refugees who arrive at the airport would wait for a short time while government officials process them with risk assessments and background checks before granting temporary approval.

By easing the bottleneck, Canada could better extend emergency sanctuary to refugees in emergency situations, be they from Ukraine, Afghanistan or Syria. Red tape shouldn’t stop Canada from becoming a country of compassion.

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