HANSARD: Jenny advocates for visa-free access for Ukrainian refugees

House of Commons Debate
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
Adjournment Proceedings
May 19th, 2022 / 6:25 p.m.

 

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, Putin's horrific actions in Ukraine are killing children, women and elders, and displacing millions of Ukrainians who are fleeing for safety.

Since 2017, the NDP has been calling for visa-free access for Ukrainians. It is unfortunate that this has not been put in place, as it would have been the most efficient way to get people to safety. Instead, the government opted for a visa process.

Canada's immigration backlog now exceeds two million people, with significant backlogs in every stream. The minister said that he was going to fix the problem, but the situation is actually getting worse, not better.

The promise of a two-week turnaround time in processing of the Canada Ukraine emergency travel visa is just fiction. In fact, Ukrainians could not even get an appointment to get their biometrics done in two weeks. Not only that, the minister announced an extended family reunification measure for Ukrainian nationals on March 3. It has been over two and a half months, and there is still no indication of when details of the family reunification PR program stream will be launched.

Aside from the issue of processing visas and travel documents, the government is now relying on Air Miles to help Ukrainians get to safety. I certainly hope that this does not replace what is absolutely essential, which are evacuation flights. If it does, it is clearly not a very reliable way to help Ukrainians get to safety. Not only that, but it will also not help those who need to leave now.

What will happen when there are no more Air Miles points available? How will Ukrainians know that they can access points? For booking flights, points are extremely limited as there are limited seats available for each flight. As such, it could be very difficult for Ukrainians fleeing Putin's war to get to safety.

Ukrainians in need of getting to safety are mired in red tape with delays in getting emergency visas. Now, they need to wait for Air Miles points to be available and hope that they can get a seat to get to Canada. Let us imagine that. The Liberal government needs to realize that this not a vacation for Ukrainian nationals. People are trying to get to safety. They are fleeing a war, and they are in a desperate situation. Canada should be partnering with Air Canada and organizing evacuation flights for Ukrainians.

Because the immigration stream made available to Ukrainians is a temporary visitor stream, concerns that they will not have the support they need are escalating. Even though the Prime Minister announced that there would be income support for them a month ago, so far there is no information on when or how they will be able to access the support. There is not even clarity on how much income support they would get or how long it would be made available to them. This cannot carry on. Also, children would not qualify for the Canada child benefit, yet we know that newcomers rely on that support to support their access to safe housing.

Provinces have said that they would help, but it is not enough. We need the federal government to bring forward a national program to address this issue and to ensure equitable access and support for all Ukrainian nationals.

 

Marie-France Lalonde (Liberal) Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration

Madam Speaker, I am truly honoured to rise to answer the member's question. Canada stands firm in its support for Ukraine. Ukrainian immigrants are an important part of Canada's cultural history, and we continue to support the courageous Ukrainian people

More than 32,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada since January 1 of this year. As part of our response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or the IRCC, introduced the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel. This fast-track temporary residence visa is designed to help Ukrainians seeking a safe haven in Canada while war continues in their home country.

As of May 1, we have received approximately 240,000 applications under this new program and have approved over 111,000. We are meeting our target of 14 days for processing applications. We are committed to processing 80% of applications within 14 days, and we continue to meet that standard.

On May 10, the Minister of Immigration announced that three charter flights would be offered to approved Ukrainians and their families under the emergency program. The IRCC will be sending an email to those who have received their visas to come to Canada under the emergency program to let them know how they can book seats on these charters. The flights will be available on a first‑come, first‑served basis, and will depart from Warsaw, Poland, arriving in Winnipeg on May 23, Montreal on May 29, and Halifax on June 2.

Protecting people from danger and integrating them into a new community and a new country is just the beginning. Ukrainians will need support once they arrive in Canada, and that is why we have announced that Ukrainians will have access to hotel stays for up to two weeks and income support for up to six weeks.

The IRCC is issuing open work and study permits to Ukrainian nationals and their families who are currently in Canada and cannot return home safely, allowing them to extend their stay in Canada for up to three years. In addition, on March 30 of this year, the Government of Canada announced temporary federal support to help eligible Ukrainians arriving under the new program to settle into their new communities.

These extended settlement program services, which are typically only available to permanent residents, will be available until March 31, 2023, and include the following: language training; information about and orientation to life in Canada, such as help with enrolling children in school; information and services to help access the labour market, including mentoring, networking, counselling, skills development and training; activities that promote connections with communities; assessments of other needs Ukrainians may have; services targeted to the needs of women, seniors, youth and LGBTQ2+ persons; and other settlement supports.

We will continue to do more to welcome Ukrainians seeking refuge here in Canada from Putin's war as quickly as possible, and we will take care of them when they get here.

 

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, the government is very good at making announcements, but the reality is that it actually has not followed up. The parliamentary secretary just talked about the income support for Ukrainians. Where is it? How can people access it? Where is the information for people to obtain that support? I have constituents who are hosting Ukrainians and they do not know where they can get that support. It is simply not there, even though the announcement was made by the Prime Minister weeks ago. Talk is cheap. We need to actually act on it and put those programs in place.

Finally, it is absolutely essential that the government does not rob Peter to pay Paul, and that it ensures that refugees from other countries are also supported, so agencies and resettlement agencies are not stuck without the support that they need for all those other countries. They all deserve support. The government also needs to take action to ensure resettlement services agencies have the capacity to do this work.

 

Marie-France Lalonde (Liberal) Orléans, ON

Madam Speaker, I am always pleased to have a conversation with the hon. member. I am very happy to report on the settlement. Earlier this year, we made an announcement that we were going forward with $35 million for our rural and small communities. I had the privilege last week to go to Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan, where I announced $14.2 million that will be distributed among 11 rural communities. We have been there since day one with our Ukrainian community. We will continue to be there and support them, and I am very proud of the actions that our government has taken.

 

https://openparliament.ca/debates/2022/5/19/jenny-kwan-3/

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