(Ottawa) Humanitarian groups supporting Ukrainian refugees are calling on Ottawa to extend a special immigration program that allows people fleeing Ukraine to temporarily live, work and study in Canada.
The Canada-Ukraine Emergency Travel Authorization (AVUCU) provides Ukrainians and their families with a visa to stay in Canada for up to three years while they determine their next steps, but applications close on March 31.
As of January 29, more than 150,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada since the Russian invasion of their country last year.
More than 800,000 people have applied for the unique emergency program that grants Ukrainians temporary status and support in Canada that falls outside the more structured programs for other refugees and potential permanent residents.
Four organizations that represent Canadian volunteers, hosts and sponsors have written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, asking them to keep the door open past the deadline.
Pathfinders for Ukraine, North America for Ukraine, 4Ukraine.ca and Safe Passage 4 Ukraine work to help refugees navigate the immigration system and settle in Canada.
“An early extension announcement can allay fears and anxieties of ‘closing the door’ on March 31, with more than 200,000 applicants awaiting decision,” the groups wrote in the letter.
They tell Messrs. Trudeau and Fraser that misinformation is spreading online about the fate of the program and that an official extension would appease Ukrainians.
They are also asking that the government’s one-time financial aids for new arrivals from Ukraine continue after June, when they are due to expire.
Each adult who arrives under the emergency program can apply for $3,000 to help them get back on their feet, as well as $1,500 per child.
These supports have been essential for people to get through their first months in Canada, according to the CEO of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Ihor Michalchyshyn. Many people left Ukraine with little more than a backpack, he recalls.
“It helps them cover the rent, buy winter clothes,” Michalchyshyn said in an interview last month.
Fraser’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
All four groups suggested the government use seized Russian assets to fund continued support for displaced Ukrainians in Canada.
“These proceeds could be used to support Ukrainians with income assistance, housing subsidies and/or scholarships at the federal, provincial and local levels,” they write in the letter.
The suggestion comes amid questions about the effectiveness of Canada’s sanctions regime.
The Canadian Press reported last week that the amount of funds listed by the RCMP as seized had changed little between June and December last year, despite the fact that hundreds more people associated with Russia were placed on the sanctions list. The RCMP did not provide an explanation.