Canadian lawyers, agencies gear up for Ukrainians fleeing war

Lawyers and refugee settlement agencies from coast to coast are gearing up for the massive endeavour to help Ukrainians fleeing the war in their homeland to settle in Canada.

“It’s definitely going to be a big exercise and it will likely have an impact on the already long processing times, but we a have got to do what we got to do to help Ukrainians fleeing the war,” said Toronto immigration lawyer David Garson.

“Unlike Afghanistan, we are seeing this war in real time, and Canadians have a lot of empathy for the Ukrainian people caught in this horrendous refugee crisis,” Garson told New Canadian Media.

He, like other lawyers who are prepared to offer their services pro-bono to help the refugees, are calling on Ottawa to quickly establish a process to get them to Canada.

Garson is suggesting that Canada waive certain visa requirements, like complete background checks and security screening for the elderly and children fleeing the war.

“We haven’t got all the details yet, but we are hoping that the current focus on Ukrainian refugees, which is necessary and right, will not further impact those already waiting in line for years to come to Canada,” he said.

Garson said it’s unfortunate that so many humanitarian crises have required the need to bring refugees to Canada from Syria, Afghanistan and Hong Kong.

Lisa Middlemiss, an immigration lawyer in Montreal and the vice-chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s Immigration Law Section, also expressed concerns that the already very long backlog for non-refugee immigrants to Canada will grow longer.

Speaking to Canadian Lawyer, Middlemiss says the immediate focus on the situation in Ukraine is explained by the extent of the crisis, which includes millions of Ukrainians fleeing while Russia bombs the country’s major cities.

Ukrainians have been streaming into neighbouring countries since the start of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, according to the United Nations. The majority, more than 1.2 million, have headed to Poland. Others have crossed into Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia and beyond.

As part of Canada’s response, Ottawa last week announced the creation of a Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel, available for individuals fleeing that country. There will be no limit to the number of Ukrainians who can apply.

“All Ukrainian nationals will be able to apply through this new path, and, pending background check and security screening, their stay in Canada could be extended by at least 2 years. We aim to have the extended pathway open for applications in 2 weeks, and, in the interim, we continue to encourage Ukrainians to apply through all programs, and their applications will be prioritized,” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said in a statement.

The CBA’s Immigration Law Section said it is spearheading an initiative to provide services without charge to individuals affected by the crisis in Ukraine who wish to come to Canada.

These services include legal consultations and advice for those seeking to take advantage of the IRCC’s facilitative initiatives and programs to bring eligible Ukrainians.

A CBA live stream broadcast on the Ukrainian refugee program and how the volunteer lawyers can help will take place on Friday, March 11.

Individuals affected by the current crisis in Ukraine who want to take advantage of these programs and are seeking legal advice can find the list of volunteer lawyers on the Pro Bono Initiative – Crisis in Ukraine page.

“We welcome the government’s intention to prioritize immigration applications for Ukrainians and we want to do our part to help,” said CBA president, Stephen Rotstein.

The Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) has also compiled a list of lawyers available to provide immigration assistance to those affected by the crisis.

In Vancouver, among the agencies getting ready to help the refugees is MOSAIC, one of the largest settlement non-profit organizations in Canada. It held the first of a series of information sessions, on March 9.

“We are working closely with members of the Ukrainian community to determine how we can best support members of the Ukrainian diaspora,” Ariela Friedmann, a spokesperson for MOSAIC, told NCM, adding that “the response to each refugee crisis is different due to their unique needs.”

“For example, with the Syrian crisis the focus was on providing refugees living without durable solutions in secondary countries as either urban refugees or in refugee camps with protection opportunities,” she explains. “In Afghanistan, there is a significant challenge in supporting individuals, as a large proportion were unable to flee the country.”

Friedmann says many Ukrainians are fleeing into countries considered to be safe, durable solutions by the UN.

At S.U.C.C.E.S.S., one of the largest social service agencies in Canada, preparations are underway to help Ukrainian refugees via its Community Airport Newcomers Network (CANN).

The CANN program helps greet and orient an average of 25,000 newcomers, 8,000 temporary foreign workers, and 2,500 refugees at the Vancouver airport each year, and it has helped more than 1.1 million people since CANN was founded in 1992.

S.U.C.C.E.S.S. recently welcomed several hundred Afghan refugees to Vancouver and are now providing support as they transition to their new lives in Canada.