Extend special immigration measures to other crises: House of Commons committee

Of note:
Canada’s treatment of Ukrainians fleeing war has been distinctly different to those fleeing other humanitarian crises, the House of Commons immigration committee said Wednesday, and MPs want that to change.
The committee voted Tuesday to issue a public statement, urging the government to provide the same special immigration measures it extended to Ukrainians to refugees from other regions.The statement reads that “time is of the essence,” and said the committee calls on the immigration minister to ensure Canada’s response to humanitarian crises in other regions “are treated with the same vigor as Ukraine.

Canada has expedited immigration applications from Ukraine and created an extraordinary program to allow Ukrainian citizens and their families to come to Canada and work or study for three years while they decide their next steps.

The program does not apply to non-Ukrainians who fled the country.

Canada has received 112,000 applications from people fleeing Ukraine and has so far approved more than 26,500, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said at a press conference Wednesday.

The MPs on the committee say the measures should also be available to Afghans who are still in their Taliban-controlled home country, and refugees from other regions facing humanitarian crises such as Yemen, Myanmar and China.Fraser didn’t address the committee’s request in his press conference, but did say Canada remains “extremely committed” to helping people escape Afghanistan.

Canada has so far welcomed 10,025 Afghans since August 2021, when the Taliban took control of the country.

In a statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for Fraser said refugee resettlement efforts, including initiatives in Afghanistan and Syria, can take years to implement and must be accounted for in the government’s annual immigration-level targets tabled in Parliament.

Meanwhile, consultations with the Ukrainian community reveal many wish only to come to Canada temporarily and then return home when it is safe“We will continue to look at more ways that Canada can settle refugees, complementary to our resettlement efforts,” spokeswoman Aidan Strickland said in a statement. “Each situation is unique and should be considered as such to ensure that Canada is responding accordingly.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi applauded Canada’s actions to bring Ukrainians to a safe haven, but also reminded government officials of other refugee crises.

In February, before Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine, the UN refugee agency counted about 84 million refugees and displaced people worldwide.

“Since then, that number has probably grown to well over 90 million. We must be in the region of 95 million now,” Grandi said at the press conference with Fraser.

Grandi was in Ottawa Wednesday to announce a new global task force, chaired by Canada, aimed at finding other ways to bring refugees to safe countries.

The initiative builds on a Canadian pilot program to allow skilled refugees to apply for permanent residency through economic channels. The idea is to bring additional refugees to the country, in addition to those welcomed through humanitarian processes.

The pilot removed some of the barriers that would traditionally have precluded refugees from applying for permanent residency in Canada through economic channels.

It was expanded late last year to accommodate 500 skilled refugees, and Fraser says he hopes to see even more welcomed under the program in the future.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan says the idea behind the pilot program is great, but she has noted some issues with the execution. For example, the program is supposed to include a loan option to allow refugees to meet the economic requirements to support themselves when they come to Canada, but that loan is not yet available.

Source: Extend special immigration measures to other crises: House of Commons committee

And a good op-ed by Naomi Alboim and Karen Cohl:

It is hard to rationalize the strikingly different approaches the Canadian government has taken to two major refugee crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan.

There have been benefits offered to Ukrainians looking to escape the Russian invasion, but not to Afghans fleeing the Taliban’s takeover, including authorization for emergency travel to enter Canada on a temporary basis with open work permits for up to three years. In addition, the government has promised to develop a family-reunification sponsorship program for both immediate and extended-family members.

There have also been benefits offered to Afghans, but not to Ukrainians, such as special programs for arrival as refugees with permanent residence and entitlement to all associated supports and services.

Certainly, the specific context of a refugee crisis can necessitate unique policy responses. But a common framework should be in place to provide similar support for individuals in crisis, with differences in treatment only where demonstrably justified.

The Canadian government has said that the “temporary residence” approach is justified by the assumption that most Ukrainians will return home. The reality, however, is that many Ukrainian refugees who choose to come to Canada can be expected to stay. No one knows how long the war in Ukraine will last, what the outcome will be, how much destruction will occur and whether or when it will be possible for individuals to return. The large Ukrainian community in Canada provides an added incentive to stay.

Indeed, an example from the past may foreshadow future decisions of Ukrainians coming to Canada. In response to the crisis in Kosovo in 1999, Ottawa initiated emergency airlifts of Kosovars on the expectation that many would return home as soon as the situation abroad was resolved. They were provided with permanent residence to entitle them to supports and services while in Canada. Kosovars were also offered transportation to return home and funding to re-establish themselves there. Despite these incentives to return, and the absence of a significant Kosovar community in Canada, only 30 per cent did so.

It would therefore be well worth providing supports and services that meet the needs of new Ukrainian arrivals. Many people fleeing Ukraine are women with small children, so even with open work permits, they may not start work immediately, and many won’t be able to earn enough money to support the needs of the family. Support from the community will be invaluable in many cases, but it cannot be expected to carry the full load.

Although the federal government has announced that Ukrainians arriving as temporary residents will have access to national settlement services, they are not eligible for federal income support or interim health coverage normally provided to refugees, leaving it up to individual provinces to decide on access to health care, schools and income support.

Afghans, for their part, need emergency travel authorization and reunification of extended-family members. Such measures would help to compensate for the fact that the implementation of the two special programs for Afghan refugees has been slow and rife with problems, and that private-sponsorship applications remain blocked.

Many Afghans are at greatly increased risk from having helped Canada in Afghanistan, and many have fled to neighbouring countries that don’t want them and are unable or unwilling to provide support. Ukrainians are in a horrendous situation, but they are at least being welcomed by EU countries who want and are able to help them. Some Afghans were airlifted to Ukraine from Afghanistan. Yet, even these Afghan refugees are not entitled to Canada’s new policies, which are available only to Ukrainian nationals.

We see no justification for Canada to offer such different treatment to two groups coming to our country at around the same time. Some observers have already begun to wonder if the policy differences have been influenced by race, religion or political benefit, and the lack of limits to the number of Ukrainians being allowed to enter Canada only fuels that argument. The perception is heightened by the fact that crises under way in Africa and elsewhere have gotten no special response at all.

Canada needs a common refugee framework that includes expedited entry and permanent residence, eligibility for supports and services and reunification of extended family members. Fair and equitable responses – for any refugee group – will help people in need of protection to make the transition to a successful life in Canada, no matter how long they choose to stay.

Source: Canada needs a unified approach for people fleeing Ukraine and Afghanistan

Alboim and Cohl: Ordinary Canadians can help Afghans settle successfully in our communities

Useful recommendations and call for support:

The planes are arriving. They are bringing to Canada people who fear retribution, oppression or death from the Taliban, now firmly in control of Afghanistan. These arrivals are part of the federal government’s commitment to resettle vulnerable Afghan nationals. Officials estimate this will include 6,000 people from within Afghanistan and 15,000 who have managed to flee the country. With minimal opportunities for people to make it safely to the Kabul airport, let alone get on a plane, and with borders to neighbouring countries closed, Canada may be hard pressed to reach these numbers quickly. The reality is that many Afghans are trapped in their landlocked country, unable to escape by land, sea or air.

The immediate priority must be to get vulnerable people out of Afghanistan, whether they are at risk for having helped the Canadian government or for their human rights advocacy. Women leaders are particularly vulnerable and urgently need help to exit the country. But this cannot be our sole focus. We must also create systems to help Afghan refugees to settle successfully in our communities. In this regard, there is much to learn from previous crises where Canada welcomed large numbers of refugees.

Although every refugee movement requires tailored solutions to address unique circumstances, Canada’s success with Indochinese refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (after the fall of Saigon in 1975) and Syrian refugees (after the civil war began in 2011) is particularly instructive. An overarching lesson from these two movements is that the involvement of ordinary Canadians – in addition to governments, the private sector, and civil society organizations – can have a huge and positive impact.

One way that members of the public and civil society organizations make a difference is by being vocal about their support for a strong government response. In 2015, public outrage and concern helped to make Syrian refugees a federal election issue, garnering strong commitments from all political parties. An initial target of resettling 1,300 Syrian refugees, set by the Conservative government in 2013, became 25,000 after the Liberals came to power two years later.

Iconic photos of capsized boats and a young child who didn’t survive the journey were factors in galvanizing Canadian support in the past. Heart-wrenching images emerging from the Kabul airport could potentially have a similar effect. Canadians may feel especially motivated to help the two categories the federal government has prioritized: people who helped the Government of Canada, and those who fought for human rights and democracy, principles highly valued in Canada. These individuals and their extended families are clearly in grave danger.

While many potential refugees remain trapped in Afghanistan, those who fled to other countries before the Taliban took control are eligible for private sponsorship. The people being airlifted directly from Kabul and arriving in Canada as government assisted refugees could also benefit from being matched with groups interested in private sponsorship. This would give those refugees the benefit of the personal relationships, networks and cross-cultural connections that privately sponsored refugees typically enjoy.

For such approaches to work, authorization for sponsorship agreement holders to help Afghan refugees will need to be above and beyond any existing caps. And the lists of persons and families at risk being compiled by veterans, human rights groups, Afghan organizations, and family members in Canada should be consolidated to assist in the matching process. Private sponsorship would also be enhanced by creating a community organization modelled after Operation Lifeline and Lifeline Syria, which formed during the Indochinese and Syrian crises respectively to train sponsors and match them to refugees. Now is the time to create Lifeline Afghanistan with the leadership of Canadian Afghan organizations, like the Afghan Women’s Organization, working closely with other civil society organizations.

Another lesson from previous refugee movements is that Canada’s commitment must be long-term. The dangers abroad do not stop once Canada has reached its initial target for refugees, and the need for reunification with extended family members can take many years to resolve. Canada is still accepting Syrian refugees, although considerable frustration exists due to lengthy processing lags now that this movement is no longer a top priority.

Canada has responded to refugee crises before and we can do it again. We have the infrastructure on the ground, a robust settlement sector, an engaged Afghan community, and above all a Canadian public with a history of coming forward to do their part. We are in the middle of another federal election. It is time to speak up.

Naomi Alboim is the senior policy fellow at the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration at Ryerson University and was actively involved in the Indochinese and Syrian refugee movements. Karen Cohl is a consultant specializing in access to justice and immigration policy issues.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-ordinary-canadians-can-help-afghans-settle-successfully-in-our/