Canada is working to swiftly welcome Ukrainians fleeing their country in the midst of Russia’s invasion, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Europe, as more than half a million people have left Ukraine for neighbouring countries to seek refuge amid Moscow’s incursion — Europe’s biggest ground war since the Second World War.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, Trudeau said Canada’s ministry of immigration has seen an increase in the number of processed applications from Ukraine over the past few weeks as tensions boiled the Russian border.
“We’re also looking at the visas of the people who are here and the applications of people fleeing from Ukraine to let them come more quickly to Canada and even stay here after the end of this unfair war,” the prime minister said in French during a take-note debate on the conflict.
Trudeau said the federal government is also looking to ensure more resources for Ukrainians to be able to come to Canada on work permits and to stretch out the permits of those who are already here.
Since Jan. 19, nearly 4,000 immigration applications have been approved for Ukrainians, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said during a press conference on Monday. He said upon reports of a potential invasion by Russia, Canada began preparing for an influx of applicants more than a month ago.
After weeks of tensions and warnings from the West, Russia launched what it called a “special military operation” in Ukraine on Thursday.
In response to the invasion, Canada along with other Western nations have ramped up pressure on the Kremlin, imposing wide-ranging sanctions on Russian banks and individuals, including President Vladimir Putin, as well as sending weapons to Ukraine.
On Monday, the federal government announced that Canada will send at least 100 anti-tank weapons and 2,000 rockets to support Ukraine. This is in addition to the $7.8 million worth of lethal aid sent to Ukraine earlier this month.
At least 102 civilians in Ukraine have been killed since Thursday, with roughly 304 wounded, but the actual figure is feared to be “considerably higher,” United Nations Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet said on Monday.
During the House of Commons debate on Monday, opposition members urged the Liberal government to ensure visa-free access for people travelling from Ukraine to Canada.
“The Ukrainian people do not want to be permanent refugees. They want to be able to live in a free, peaceful and sovereign Ukraine,” said Candice Bergen, interim leader of the Conservative Party.
“But Canada can be a safe haven for them in this moment,” she added.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh echoed that call and added Canada needs to increase humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
“With Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine, the situation for people on the ground has become unfathomably more dire.”
“We need to make sure … that there is barrier-free access for people who are seeking refuge and safety,” Singh added.
“Ukrainian people need our support more than ever, and Canada needs to plan for that humanitarian aid.”
On Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly announced that Canada will send an additional $25 million of protective equipment, which will include body armour, helmets, gas masks, and night vision gear as requested by Ukraine.
— with files from Reuters