Ukrainians fleeing Russian aggression can find a safe haven in Canada using expedited temporary visas for emergency travel, the federal government announced Thursday while it also ratcheted up the economic pressure on Russia’s oligarchs.
The government will provide fast-tracked visas for an unlimited number of Ukrainians who wish to come to Canada to work, and then return home when it is safe, said Immigration Minister Sean Fraser. He said these visas will take just weeks to process, instead of the usual year.
“The primary motivation for this program is that it provides the fastest way for us to start welcoming as many Ukrainians as possible,” he said.
Fraser said a refugee resettlement program would have taken years, and he learned from his conversations with the Ukrainian community that many people will want to return to their home country when the conflict ends.
The application process is expected to open in about 14 days.
The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, says the refugees who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries since Russia launched its attacks last week now number one million.
The agency warned that without an immediate end to the conflict, millions more will be forced to leave their country.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland announced at the same Thursday news conference that the government has imposed a 35 percent tariff on all Russian exports to Canada.
She said there are also new sanctions against 10 executives with Gazprom, a major Russian state-owned energy company, and Rosneft, Russia’s leading oil company.
“This will bring the total number of people and entities sanctioned, or in the process of being sanctioned, by Canada since Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea in 2014 to more than 1000,” Freeland said.
Freeland said this will increase the pressure on Russia’s oligarchs, whom she called the “sycophants” and “enablers” in the Putin’s inner circle who have lived luxurious lives in the West.
On top of the economic pressure, Canada plans to send more lethal aid to Ukraine. Canada will send 4,500 rocket launchers and 7,500 hand grenades from its existing weapons stockpile.
Canada has also pledged $1 million for the purchase of high-resolution modern satellite imagery.
“This capability will provide Ukraine’s military with a strengthened ability to monitor the movement of Russian forces in and around their territory,” Defence Minister Anita Anand said.
Fraser also announced a new reunification program for Ukrainians with family in Canada who wish to come and remain here permanently.
The government has encouraged refugees to continue to apply to come to Canada through traditional immigration streams, and says their requests will be expedited too.
About 6,000 expedited applications from Ukraine have been approved since January.
By Laura Osman and Mike Blanchield