Russia forces occupied Ukrainians to change citizenship

Citizenship warfare and erasing identity:

A convoy of empty buses sweeps into a town, alongside members of Russia’s domestic intelligence agency FSB. They cite a decree issued by the Russian president regarding the deportation of anyone without Russian citizenship from the occupied territories. “They radically demand that people either give up their Ukrainian passport in favor of a Russian one, or their property will be confiscated immediately and they will be resettled,” according to the Ukrainian military.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree according to which citizens of Ukraine living in the Russian-occupied parts of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk who wish to keep their Ukrainian citizenship can only stay there until July 1, 2024. After that, they can be deported from those occupied regions.

“Constant threats”

DW spoke to people from the occupied parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions who confirmed that Ukrainians are being forced to take Russian passports. For security reasons, none of the people want to be named.

“Russian soldiers searched everything in our house. When I showed my Ukrainian passport, they shouted that I should change it for a Russian one, and that otherwise my car would be taken away, and I would be deported,” an elderly man from near Kherson said.

A woman from the Zaporizhzhia region was in tears as she recounted how Russian occupiers threatened to deport her young children to Russia if she didn’t immediately apply for a Russian passport.

Another woman was threatened by Russian soldiers who “put a bag over her head” because she refused to change citizenship. “We held out until the end, we didn’t want to accept a Russian passport. But it’s just unbearable and scary,” the woman from near the Azov Sea told DW.

Why the rush?

The first deputy chairman of the Kherson regional council, Yuriy Sobolevsky, said the pressure on the people living in the occupied territories has recently increased significantly. “Access to medical care and freedom of movement between cities will be restricted for those who refuse to accept Russian passports,” he said. He thinks the Russians are now resorting to terror because not as many people in those territories want to become Russian citizens as Moscow had hoped.

According to the British Ministry of Defense, Moscow apparently wants to speed up the integration of the occupied territories into Russia to sell the invasion of Ukraine as a success to its own people, particularly in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election.

But people are afraid of ending up in Russian databases, a young man from Khrustalnyi in the Luhansk region told DW. He’s from an area which has been occupied since as early as 2014. Many don’t know what to do. “More and more employers are demanding a Russian passport,” the young man explained. But anyone who applies for a Russian “residence permit” is handing themselves over to the occupying forces. Then there is also the risk of being drafted into the war.

Conflicting signals from Kyiv

Should people have a Russian passport forced on them or not? There are conflicting takes on this among Ukrainian politicians. Dmytro Lubinets, human rights commissioner in the Ukrainian parliament, said on TV that Ukrainians in the occupied territories should accept Russian passports if they fear for their lives. He stressed that Ukraine does not recognize such forced passports and that it would not mean that they lose their Ukrainian citizenship.

However, the Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories, Mychajlo Podoljak, said Ukrainians should not accept Russian passports. “Do not cooperate with the occupiers, do not accept Russian passports, flee if possible or wait for our army,” she said on TV.

Life under occupation not a crime

“I’m ashamed and afraid to accept a Russian passport, but I’m also afraid of being deported,” said one desperate woman from the occupied part of the Kherson region. “We can’t leave, as the Ukrainian authorities advise us, because we have an old, sick mother.”

According to Alyona Lunyova from Ukraine’s ZMNINA Human Rights Center, the contradictory advice from Ukrainian officials is confusing people. She stressed that living under occupation is not a crime. “On the contrary, not everyone should leave the occupied territories, it shouldn’t become an empty country and we cannot take in four to five million people from there.” She added that it is not a crime to accept a Russian passport under duress.

Meanwhile, an adviser to Ukraine’s presidential office, Mykhailo Podolyak, said Lubinets’ and Vereshchuk’s advice was not contradictory. He tweeted this advice for Ukrainians in the occupied territories: “If it is possible not to take a Russian passport, then try not to take one. But if you have to take a Russian passport to avoid oppression and torture, then take one.”

Podolyak stressed that Ukraine would not persecute citizens who “passively obtained Russian citizenship.”

Source: Russia forces occupied Ukrainians to change citizenship

Ukrainians who fled to Canada in ‘grey area’ of immigration system

Of note. Potential risk to absorptive capacity should they remain and should the two-thirds who have not used their visa arrive, in addition to the issues raised by stakeholders.

The increased numbers of temporary residents, students and temporary visas, all uncapped, makes a mockery of Canada’s claim to “manage” immigration, given that well over half are not part of the annual immigration plan and are demand driven as my quote below notes:

Ukrainians who have fled to Canada with an emergency visa find themselves in a “grey area” of the immigration system, and several settlement specialists are urging the government to make changes if the program is renewed.

Canada took a new approach to the crisis sparked by the Russian invasion last year, offering an unlimited number of temporary visas to Ukrainians to allow them to live, work and study in Canada while they figure out their next steps.

The idea was to offer refuge to people as quickly as possible, as millions of women, children and older adults fled the violence, without compromising the integrity of the immigration system.

But people who arrived in Canada under the emergency visa don’t qualify for the same supports as people who arrive with a refugee designation, even though most of them think of themselves as refugees, said Ihor Michalchyshyn, executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

They also don’t qualify for certain government assistance, benefits and student loans, as permanent residents would.

“The usual programs and funding aren’t available to these Ukrainians, and it’s not organized,” Michalchyshyn said in an interview Monday.

Nova Scotia immigration program director Simone Le Gendre described the confusion the province faced at the outset of the program because its usual immigration settlement guidelines did not apply to Ukrainians with emergency visas.

“What we had was a grey area – a group of people who had experienced trauma were coming to our province and needed to be connected to support very quickly,” said Le Gendre, who spoke at the Metropolis Canada conference in Ottawa Friday.

The new arrivals had “refugee-like” needs, she explained, which prompted the province to set up special committees aimed at connecting people with housing, health care and income support top-ups.

Their task was made even more difficult by the fact that there was no central registry with arrival information, as there would be for permanent residents or refugees.

Provinces and agencies had no idea when Ukrainians would arrive, said Katie Crocker, the CEO of the Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies in British Columbia.

Instead, agencies like hers, the YMCA, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and others stood up booths at airports to try to flag down Ukrainian newcomers as they arrived in Canada and let them know what kind of help was available.

The temporary visa program is set to stop taking new applicants on March 31, giving the government two weeks to decide whether to extend it.

So far, 603,681 people have been approved for a visa under the program as of March 9, 2023, though only 184,908 have actually come to Canada.

When asked about the next iteration of the program last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said only that Canada would “continue to be there to support Ukrainian refugees in various ways, as necessary.”

Crocker said if the program continues, the government should consider a few key changes.

“If we’re not going to have them come as government-assisted refugees with a very clear pathway, then we do need to have some more concrete pre-arrival information (from) them about where they’re going, when they’re coming, who’s coming with them, what their English language levels are, what their credentials are,” said Crocker, who also spoke at the conference.

Those key details would allow settlement agencies to prepare for their arrival and connect them with jobs, housing and other resources they might need, she said.

She also suggested the government consider putting a cap on the number of applications it will approve.

The program was specifically designed without a cap as a way to bring people to Canada quickly, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said last week at a press conference.

“We made the decision at the time to try something new, to offer temporary protection by leveraging the strength … of Canada’s tourism program, where we’re not required to set a capped number of people that we can support, but we can process whatever applications come in,” he said.

The immigration department says approximately 373 staff have been specifically dedicated to processing applications from Ukrainians, in addition to existing staff who work on the files as part of their regular duties.

Whatever “hiccups” associated with the emergency visas that may have affected immigration processing times are “well worth the value,” said Fraser, who spoke last week at a press conference in Bridgewater, N.S.

The assumption at the time was that Ukrainians would likely return to their home country when the war ended. But increasingly, Ukrainians who come to Canada are showing an interest in staying, said Sarosh Rizvi, the executive director of the Alberta Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies.

A post-arrival survey of Ukrainians who arrived under the program shows that 84 per cent would like to become permanent residents once their emergency visas expire, he said.

“What does that mean for our infrastructure sector?” he said. “What does that mean for immigration levels?”

It also leaves an open question about what kind of support will be available to people who decide to stay if they are denied permanent status in Canada, he said.

Andrew Griffith, Canada’s former director-general of citizenship and multiculturalism, said the government should consider creating targets for the number of temporary residents in the country each year, as it does for other kinds of immigration.

“There are those people that come on a temporary basis but then they transition to permanent resident, and because they’re here, they also need housing, and public services and everything like that,” Griffith said in an interview.

Michalchyshyn, who the government has consulted on the next phase of the emergency visa, said he is hopeful the government will announce more details of its plan this week.

Source: Ukrainians who fled to Canada in ‘grey area’ of immigration system

One in three Ukrainians with visas have reached Canada as applications approach 700K

Of note. Possibly to ensure they have the option in case needed, as hinted at by Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine::

Government statistics show fewer than one-third of Ukrainians approved for temporary Canadian visas have arrived in the country, even as hundreds of thousands of others remain in the queue waiting to find out if they qualify to travel to Canada.

The temporary visas are part of the special immigration measures introduced by the federal government in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine giving Ukrainians emergency authorization to travel and stay in Canada.

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the government received nearly 700,000 requests from Ukrainians to travel to Canada under the special program between March and November.

Yet the department says only around 420,000 applications have been approved so far, while statistics from the Canada Border Services Agency show about 117,000 have actually reached Canada. The majority of those arrived by air.

It wasn’t immediately clear why so few Ukrainians authorized to travel to Canada have done so.

Meanwhile, a document tabled in the House of Commons last week shows that the average processing time for the majority of visas between March and September was 72 days — or more than 10 weeks.

Tabled in response to a written question from Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, the document also says that as of September, about 14 per cent of the applications were for children under 18 while around five per cent were for people aged 61 and older.

The response also says 1,757 applications were rejected and 1,415 applications were withdrawn as of Sept. 20.

It goes on to caution that total application numbers held by the immigration department could be “inflated” because some people have multiple applications associated with their files.

Genuis had asked for data about whether anyone accepted under the program lived outside of Ukraine before Russia’s invasion.

But the department said it was not able to determine a person’s country of residence prior to their application, and that applicants are only required to declare their current country of residence.

In testimony to a Senate committee last week, Ukrainian Ambassador to Canada Larisa Galadza said that to her knowledge, Canada is receiving 14,000 applications a week from Ukrainians, and about seven million civilians have fled Ukraine in total.

She noted that the fact Canada is providing a three-year visa to applicants lessens the pressure to travel immediately.

Source: One in three Ukrainians with visas have reached Canada as applications approach 700K

The disappeared: Ukrainians plead for answers on family members forcefully taken to Russia

Yet another series of war crimes and brutality:

It’s been nearly seven months since Anna Zaitseva and her toddler last came under bombardment by the Russian military in a shelter beneath Ukraine’s Azovstal steel plant – and her young son still cannot fall sleep until she holds her hands over his eyes.

“He’s developed a habit. When he’s trying to sleep, he takes my hands and puts them onto his face to cover it,” Ms. Zaitseva, 25, said in an interview.

The gesture mimics how she used to protect her son, Svyatoslav, as pieces of the bomb shelter’s ceiling rained down on them under the Azovstal steel complex in Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine.

Ms. Zaitseva was one of numerous civilians trapped there for 65 days before a safe-passage operation conducted by the Red Cross this spring.

Now a refugee in Berlin, she travelled to the Halifax International Security Forum this weekend to draw attention to the huge numbers of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers forcefully taken to Russia where they have all but disappeared.

Her husband, Kirillo Zaitsev, 23, was a steel worker turned Azov Regiment soldier. He was one of the last group of Ukrainian fighters holding out in the Azovstal complex until their surrender in mid-May.

Mr. Zaitsev was taken prisoner by the Russians and his wife has not heard from him since. She presumes he’s in a prison camp in Russia, where, by all accounts, Ukrainians are being mistreated and where, she fears, Moscow is failing to live up to the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war.

She said photos of Ukrainian soldiers imprisoned in Russia show how they have lost significant amounts of weight; accounts of the conditions say the jailed troops lack access to proper food, water and medicine. “They are trying to kill them physically and kill their morale.”

Olga Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, told journalists at the Halifax forum that Kyiv estimates 1.5 million Ukrainian women and children have been “forcefully displaced” to Russia.

“We do not have any access to information on where they live or under what conditions,” she said. These Ukrainians are deprived of “any access to communications” that would enable them to talk to those back in Ukraine.

She could not provide an estimate on how many thousands of Ukrainian soldiers such as Kirillo Zaitsev have been taken as prisoners to Russia.

Ms. Zaitseva, who was a French teacher before the war, still copes with post-traumatic stress disorder as well as a concussion from a blast caused by Russia’s bombardment of the steel plant. She was caught in one attack while in a makeshift kitchen one floor above the bomb shelter where she was mixing baby formula for her son and heating it by candle.

Ms. Zaitseva says her breast milk stopped from the stress of the siege and she believes her son would not have lived through the ordeal if soldiers hadn’t discovered a cache of infant formula.

After leaving the steel plant in late April, she and her son and parents were taken to a Russian “filtration camp” where she says she was forced to stripped naked and interrogated by agents from Moscow’s Federal Security Service because she was a wife of an Azov Regiment soldier. The unit has a history of far-right leanings but is now part of the Ukrainian army.

“They told me to take off all my clothing and they were touching me everywhere,” Ms. Zaitseva said.

“They took our phones and downloaded all of the data. They told me to tell the truth otherwise I could be killed.”

She said she believes the only reason she was allowed to go free from the Russian filtration camp was because representatives of the Red Cross and United Nations had accompanied her there.

Ms. Zaitseva said civilians hiding in the labyrinthine steel plant were chronically short of food and forced to use rain and melted snow for water. A lack of sufficient power meant they had to live in complete darkness for 12 hours a day. The Soviet-era bomb shelter was plagued by high levels of humidity and she had bedsores from sleeping on makeshift beds.

People were hungry all the time. Some played games related to food, pretending they were in cafés or supermarkets. Many lost weight. Ms. Zaitseva lost 10 kilograms and her father lost 20. When they emerged after more than two months their skin was pale.

She worries for Ukrainian children forcefully taken to Russia. “Russians are taught to hate Ukrainians and nobody will adopt a Ukrainian child.” Ms. Zaitseva fears these parentless-children will end up exploited for human trafficking or worse.

Her story is also part of a new documentary, Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom by Israeli-American director Evgeny Afineevsky, which was screened at the Halifax forum, a gathering of Canadian, American and European leaders, as well as military and security experts from NATO and its allies.

Source: The disappeared: Ukrainians plead for answers on family members forcefully taken to Russia

Advocates urge Ottawa to remove quota on Afghan refugee sponsorship program

Of note – quoted:

A group of advocates is urging the federal government to remove the limit on applications to sponsor certain Afghan refugees in Canada – or at least stop counting rejected applications towards it.

The government introduced a new program last month to allow Canadian individuals and organizations to privately sponsor up to 3,000 Afghan refugees who don’t have refugee status from the United Nations refugee agency or a foreign state.

It said it will accept sponsorship applications under the new program until Oct. 17, 2023, or once it has received applications for 3,000 refugees – whichever comes first.

In a letter sent to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser last week, a volunteer with Northern Lights Canada, a non-profit that’s been helping Afghan refugees in Toronto, said the new program’s cap is “highly prejudicial,” compared to the accommodations made for Ukrainians who want to come to Canada.

“Minister Fraser, I urge you to reconsider the design of the Afghan special program,” Heather Finley wrote in her letter dated Oct. 22.

“By raising the applicant quota and removing rejected applications from it, you will allow a more fair and equitable opportunity for Afghans in Canada to sponsor their families to join them here.”

Stephen Watt, co-founder of Northern Lights Canada, said the new program doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of Afghan refugees and their families and friends in Canada.

“Just having 3,000 spots in a crisis where millions of people are very recently displaced. It is insulting,” he said in an interview.

Almost 109,000 Ukrainians arrived to Canada between Jan. 1 and Oct. 23 under special programs the government introduced to help unlimited numbers of Ukrainians and their family members flee the war in Ukraine to safety.

Meanwhile, Ottawa has committed to resettling a total of 40,000 Afghan refugees after the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August of last year, with fewer than 23,000 having arrived in Canada so far.

Immigration Department spokeswoman Isabelle Dubois said the program that has allowed Ukrainians to come to Canada is using the department’s existing temporary resident visa processes, networks and infrastructure to bring as many of them as quickly as possible.

“This is not a refugee program, as compared to our Afghanistan refugee resettlement program, since Ukrainians have indicated that they need temporary safe harbour,” she said.

“Many of them intend to return to their home country when it will be safe to do so.”

Dubois said the government provided 3,000 additional spaces for organizations wanting to sponsor Afghan refugees in addition to the 3,000 spaces under the new special program.

“We are also processing existing and new private sponsorship applications for up to 7,000 Afghan refugees,” she said.

Watt said the new program’s application system crashed shortly after the government opened it at midnight on Oct. 17 due to many people rushing to submit applications.

He said many will likely end up rejected on a technicality because the government said it will process only the first 3,000 applicants and thus sponsors had to raise funds and write their sponsorship applications quickly.

“It’s so disappointing,” he said.

“This announcement that whether (the applications) are good or bad, we’re still going to count them towards the total. So, what that did was create this condition where people were frantically rushing to put together applications.”

Dubois confirmed the government will count all completed applications towards the new program’s 3,000 limit and said the department is currently reviewing the received applications to determine whether it reached that cap.

“We understand some clients experienced issues when submitting an application. No applications were lost as files were automatically backed up,” Dubois said.

“Applications are reviewed on a first-in, first-out basis to determine their completeness. We will continue to send out acknowledgments of receipt for applications that are determined to be complete and accepted into processing.”

Watt said the government should remove the cap on how many Afghan refugees can be privately sponsored for one year to allow people to work on the sponsorship applications – which he said can take months to put together because the requirements are so stringent and excessive.

“If you had a family of seven that may be $70,000 you have to get together. You have to get all the sponsorship documents lined up. You have to write the application,” he said.

“Filling out PDFs perfectly in perfect English when you’reanew Canadian, and having to having to rise to the challenge of these applications which are very demanding even for people who are completely fluent in English and have great use of computer skills.”

Andrew Griffith, a former director at the federal Immigration Department, said he is not aware of any government immigration or refugee program that counted rejected application towards the target other than the new special program for Afghan refugees.

He said many have been criticizing the government for apparently prioritizing Ukrainian refugees over Afghan refugees.

“The situations for both sets of refugees are dire in many cases,” he said. “I’m not (trying to) apply any value statements on that, but it does highlight another discrepancy between the two groups of refugees in my view.”

Griffith said it’s true that the Ukrainians are formally coming to Canada on temporary visas, but many of them may end up staying here.

“Realistically, how many of the people accepted from Ukraine will go back?” he said. “I think most of them would probably like to go. I don’t deny that. But it depends on the situation.”

Source: Advocates urge Ottawa to remove quota on Afghan refugee sponsorship program

Japan has taken in hundreds of Ukrainians. The welcome for others has been less warm

Of note:

A dozen Ukrainian students sit in a classroom, studying basic Japanese to help them navigate life in a new country. Among them is Sergei Litvinov, a 29-year-old trained chef, who arrived in June. He says he’s been listening to Japanese rock music since his teen years.

Coming to Japan is “a dream come true,” he says with a laugh. “But I’m not happy, because it’s a terrible story in Ukraine.”

Litvinov is one of nearly 2,000 Ukrainians admitted to Japan on a temporary basis since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, according to Japan’s justice ministry.

The Ukrainians have been met with an outpouring of sympathy and hospitality in the country. “It was the first time I’ve gotten so many phone calls and emails from society, wanting to assist the refugees from Ukraine,” says Kazuko Fushimi, who handles public relations at the Tokyo-based Japan Association for Refugees.

But the warm welcome Japan has given the Ukrainians contrasts with how it has treated other foreigners fleeing conflict and persecution over the years, say human rights groups. Of 169 Afghans who fled to Japan after the Taliban took over in August 2021, 58 went back to Afghanistan “due to what they say was pressure and a lack of support from the Japanese Foreign Ministry,” Japan’s Kyodo news service reported last month.

For now, the Japanese government has given the Ukrainians residency and work permits lasting up to a year. But for those from other countries, it’s often a years-long struggle to attain similar benefits and privileges.

The central government has provided visas and work permits. Local governments have provided food, housing and living allowances.

Litvinov is one of a group of 70 Ukrainians sent to the port city of Yokohama – 17 miles from the Japanese capital Tokyo — where local authorities are providing for temporary accommodation, food and living expenses.

Significantly, Japan is not calling the Ukrainians refugees, but “evacuees.” That is because Tokyo expects them all to go home eventually.

Historically, Japan accepts very few refugees. Last year, it granted just 74 applicants refugee status — the highest number ever, but less than 1% of the total who applied, according to the Japan Association for Refugees.

Some in Japan see their country as mono-ethnic — not a nation of immigrants. But the idea is a matter of debate.

Human rights groups and refugee advocates say the system is deliberately designed to set a high bar for successful refugee applications. Refugees applying for asylum in Japan must demonstrate they face life-threatening persecution at home.

Heydar Safari Diman has been trying to do just that for more than 30 years, since fleeing from Iran to Japan, which he became interested in through watching TV dramas and movies, including the films of director Akira Kurosawa. He does not want to say exactly what persecution he faced in Iran, because he fears it could jeopardize family members still in the country.

But authorities have repeatedly rejected his bids for refugee status. They detained him for a total of more than four years without any explanation, he says, in what he calls hellish conditions.

“I like Japan and Japanese people, but I hate the ones in the detention center,” he says, speaking fluent Japanese. “How could they bully us like that? What did we do? We are refugees. I have no criminal record.”

In 2019, Safari Diman was one of about 100 detainees who went on hunger strikes to protest their detention. Safari Diman says he sank into deep depression and thought about ending his own life.

“You need a lot of courage to commit suicide. It’s very difficult to kill yourself in there. And I did not have that courage,” he says.

Tokyo-based attorney Chie Komai, who represents Safari Diman and others seeking to stay in Japan, took his case to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2019. She argued that her client’s detention was arbitrary because Japanese immigration authorities can detain foreigners indefinitely, without any judicial review.

The U.N. working group agreed with her. “They made it clear that the Japanese immigration detention system is in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

The Japanese government objected to the U.N. working group’s findings, saying they were “based on factual errors” and disputing that its detentions were arbitrary. But it did not dispute the details of Safari Diman’s case. He is now out on what is called “provisional release,” and has not been detained since the ruling.

Safari Diman, who’s subsisted in Japan on donations from friends and supporters, says he does not expect the sort of benefits the Ukrainians are getting.

“I’m not asking for Japanese taxpayers to support me,” he says. “If authorities recognize me as a refugee, I will work and pay taxes.”

Other cases have also fueled debate over Japan’s treatment of refugees. They include the death in an immigration detention center last year of 33-year-old Sri Lankan Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali, detained for overstaying her visa.

Prosecutors dropped charges against immigration officials accused of responsibility for her death.

In another case, last month a Japanese court ordered the government to compensate the family of a 43-year-old Cameroonian man who died in an immigration detention center in 2014.

The public outcry over deaths in immigration detention centers appears to have prompted the government to drop controversial amendments to immigration laws. The amendments would have made it easier for the government to deportforeigners whose bids for refugee status had failed.

Japan’s government says it will extend financial assistance to the Ukrainians for an additional six months. The double standard is not lost on officials like Kazuhiro Suzuki, a Yokohama city official who is involved in running the program for Ukrainians.

“We’ve only been supporting the Ukrainian evacuees,” he says, observing the students from a corner of the classroom. “While the situation of refugees from other countries hasn’t changed.”

He adds: “Every day we keep working, but this discrepancy bothers us.”

Source: Japan has taken in hundreds of Ukrainians. The welcome for others has been less warm

Falconer: Report says Canada should loosen visa requirements to allow more Ukrainian refugees

Of note. But should this be an addition to current levels or at the expense of economic or family class? Or to fulfill some of the labour demand currently being filled by Temporary Foreign Workers? And would waiving the visa requirement create pressures to do the same for other refugees?

A new report says Canada needs to change its federal visa policy to speed up the admission of Ukrainian refugees, which has slowed to a trickle.

The study by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy released Thursday says that compared to other countries, Canada has received a small number of the millions of Ukrainians who have been displaced since Russia invaded the eastern European country in February.

“Applications by Ukrainians are starting to far outstrip the number that are being granted by the Canadian government and we don’t even have a really clear picture of how many Ukrainians are coming into the country,” said author Robert Falconer.

Statistics show the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program, which expedites visas and temporary residency permits for Ukrainians and their families, isn’t enough, he said.

As of June 22, there were approximately 190,000 Ukrainians with pending applications to come to Canada, up from 140,000 about one month earlier.

Falconer said the program, requiring those arriving to have visas, is to blame for Canada lagging behind other countries — most notably Ireland, which has waived its visa requirement.

“One of the objections within the committee in Parliament was if we let Ukrainians in, then Russian spies would use that to infiltrate the system,” he said.

“Russian espionage does exist, but the refugee channel is one of the more inefficient ways to try and infiltrate a Russian spy into the country.”

Falconer said federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, with proper resources, would be able to manage security risks involving the visa process. He recommends Canada adopt the Irish model or another option to do visa checks once people arrive.

“If we’re not doing the Irish model, I would say we do what’s called the on-arrival model, which is what a lot of countries do. When you arrive at the airport, you have to wait for a small period while the government officials run the security checks,” Falconer said.

“You do some risk assessments and can probably vet that eight-year-old kid who is probably not a Russian spy whereas an unaccompanied male in their mid-20s … you might hold them while you process the background check and let them into the country. Let them get here to safety first and then process them from there.”

Falconer said an overwhelming number of Canadians support bringing in a high number of Ukrainian refugees and our country has the highest percentage of people of Ukrainian descent next to Ukraine and Russia.

The report says Canada and the United Kingdom have similar processes for the admission of Ukrainian refugees and the numbers are comparable.

It says about 13 times the number of Ukrainian refugees per capita arrived in Ireland than in the United Kingdom during the first two months of the invasion.

Falconer said the findings of the report are to be forwarded to the federal government, but he isn’t sure whether it would result in a loosening of the requirements.

“I think they’re probably aware. I think they are very, very, very concerned — less with Ukrainians and more with how the overall immigration file is going generally.”

Source: Report says Canada should loosen visa requirements to allow more Ukrainian refugees

Kuluberhan: Why do some asylum seekers make it into the West quickly – while others have to wait more than a decade?

More questioning of double standards. Reality is a bit more complex than presented as Canada’s response to Syrian refugees attests (but not so with respect to Afghan refugees):

They were middle-class Europeans who looked more like the family living next door than the refugees Western countries had become so accustomed to seeing trickle across their borders. At least, that’s how Western news media and politicians often depicted the Ukrainian citizens who were forced to flee their homes following the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

As a second-generation Canadian and the daughter of two Eritrean refugees, the distinctions made between refugees felt like textbook dog-whistles that were impossible to ignore. Indeed, when I travelled to Ethiopia and visited my uncle this past May, I witnessed first-hand how refugees who don’t look like people who might live next door – who come from places that are not seen as “civilized” – have become forgotten casualties of broken asylum systems.

Picture this: You grow up living in an eight-bedroom home in a residential neighbourhood two hours outside the capital city. Your father runs a public transportation business, and your mother is a shopkeeper who sells spices. You and your seven siblings attend the only private school in town. The life you lead is a good one – until one day, the political situation in your country changes and suddenly your family loses everything. Before you know it, nearly two decades pass by in the refugee camp where you’ve been waiting in limbo for your asylum papers to arrive.

This is my uncle’s story, in a nutshell. Despite hailing from Ethiopia, the life he led prior to the 1998 Ethiopia-Eritrea border war was not all that different from the life of your average middle-class Canadian citizen. Yet December will mark 18 years since my uncle first filed an asylum claim in 2004. He does not “seem so like us,” as one Telegraph writer described Ukrainian asylum seekers – and there is no telling when his ordeal will end.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government announced measures in March that would fast-track the arrival of an unlimited number of Ukrainians fleeing the war and allow them to apply for a renewable three-year temporary residence. Many wondered why the same quick action couldn’t be taken for the refugees who have languished in the system for years. But during a CBS News broadcast report from Kyiv in late February, senior foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata voiced what had to that point been largely implicit: Ukraine, he declared, “isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully, too – city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”

Research studies have long indicated that lengthy asylum processes adversely affect the mental health of refugee claimants, leading to an increased risk of life-long psychiatric disorders. My uncle is no exception. After my uncle spent15 years in the Shimelba camp in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, we lost all contact with him for two years until 2021, when he was found homeless on the streets of Addis Ababa. When I met him, his mental health had deteriorated to such a point that my family decided to pool resources and place him in a private facility where he could receive treatment for depression while he continued waiting to be granted asylum.

While his case is an extreme one, long asylum wait-times are not uncommon. In a 2017 memo, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada estimated that by 2021, wait times for asylum claims would take up to 11 years – much closer to the bleak reality faced by refugees than the projected 24-month period indicated on the board’s website.

Canada moving at a breakneck speed to implement targeted supports for Ukrainian asylum seekers was a reminder that our refugee policies are not race-blind commitments to humanitarianism. Who a country welcomes across its borders and into its society reveals who that country believes belongs, who doesn’t, and which lives are worth saving.

Criticism of slow resettlement processes are usually met with the excuse that the increase in the number of asylum claims has placed an untenable weight on a system already weakened by a mounting backlog. Yet the response to the Ukraine crisis, in Canada and elsewhere, has revealed how governments in the West can operate like well-oiled machines when they feel the need.

Of course, we should applaud our government for the exemplary support it provided to Ukrainians in need. Now we must urge them to apply this same urgency and care to all refugees, equally.

Hermona Kuluberhan is an Ottawa-based writer currently completing a master’s in journalism at Carleton University.

Source: Why do some asylum seekers make it into the West quickly – while others have to wait more than a decade? 

Zelenskyy responds to petition demanding mandatory test for obtaining Ukrainian citizenship

More on the citizenship petition and reaction, particularly touchy given Russian weaponization of citizenship and efforts to destroy Ukrainian identity and citizenship:

The document was registered on the presidential website on May 23 by Vitaliy Kapustyan, and so far it has already garnered over 25,000 signatures – the number required for a mandatory response from the head of state

The author of the petition demands the introduction of a comprehensive examination for obtaining citizenship in Ukraine. It should consist of a test on the Ukrainian language, the history of Ukraine, knowledge of the Constitution, and the national anthem.

It notes that the exam does not exempt candidates for citizenship from providing other necessary documents, but that the test should be an integral part of the process of acquiring citizenship.

“The Armed Forces of Ukraine, volunteers, and all concerned Ukrainians are doing everything possible to preserve the integrity of Ukraine,” the author of the petition stated in the explanatory note.

“Being Ukrainian is a privilege and at the same time a responsibility. In addition to the set of documents, candidates must show their respect and genuine interest in acquiring Ukrainian citizenship.”

In response to the petition, President Zelenskyy noted that one of the requirements for obtaining Ukrainian citizenship by foreigners is the level of command of the state language. This is determined by the National Commission on the Standards of the State Language, which sets the appropriate test.

At the same time, the requirements for obtaining citizenship do not include passing tests on the history of Ukraine and Ukrainian legislation.

“The issue of introducing a mandatory exam for acquiring Ukrainian citizenship will require legislative regulation,” the president said.

He explained that the government of Ukraine ensures the implementation of policy in the spheres of education and science, the comprehensive development and functioning of the state language in all spheres of public life throughout the territory of Ukraine, the implementation of state legal policy, and regulates migration processes.

“That’s why I ask Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal to look comprehensively into the issues raised in the electronic petition,” Zelenskyy said.

“The author of the electronic petition will be informed about the results of consideration of the issues raised.”

As scandal erupted in Ukraine on June 3, after adviser to the Minister of Internal Affairs Anton Gerashchenko announced that Russian journalist Aleksandr Nevzorov and his wife Lidia had received Ukrainian citizenship.

Public opinion was divided, with some criticizing the granting of citizenship. There are no other recent decrees on the granting of Ukrainian citizenship on the website of the President of Ukraine.

It is also not known whether Nevzorov took a test on the level of his proficiency in Ukrainian.

Source: Zelenskyy responds to petition demanding mandatory test for obtaining Ukrainian citizenship

Russia: Rules Related to Russian Citizenship for Ukrainian Citizens Updated

Citizenship policy as part of military strategy:

The Russian government updated the rules related to the Presidential Order that simplified the procedure for Ukrainian citizens seeking Russian citizenship. Now, children, spouses and parents of Ukrainian citizens are eligible for the relaxed process (previously only main applicants were eligible). Additionally, applicants now only need to show a migration card (or any other document confirming that the foreign citizen crossed the Russian border legally), whereas previously they had to prove residence in Russia, proof of income in Russia and knowledge of the Russian language. Lastly, foreign citizens without an address registered in Russia can file documents in any region where they reside in Russia.

Source: Russia: Rules Related to Russian Citizenship for Ukrainian Citizens Updated