The Canadian government prioritized existing immigration applications from Ukraine since thousands of people began to flee Russian aggression in the region.
"We expected upon reports of a potential further invasion into Ukraine that we would see displacement of Ukrainians. That's why we started preparing more than a month ago to ensure we had the ability to respond to a potential influx of people seeking to come to Canada," Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said at a briefing Monday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Russian President Vladimir Putin has created a refugee crisis, and the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said about 500,000 people in Ukraine have fled to neighbouring countries so far.
On Tuesday the UN is expected to make a plea for humanitarian support for Ukrainians displaced by the violence in their country, and those who are still within the country's borders.
The immigration minister said he has been speaking to members of the Ukrainian Canadian community, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and businesses about how best to welcome people to the safety of Canada, and said he will announce further action to address the crisis in the days to come.
The NDP has urged Canada to drop visa requirements for Ukrainians to come to Canada to ensure people seeking safety aren't "subjected to a bureaucratic nightmare."
"The European Union, and most recently Ireland, have already waived the requirements for visas for Ukrainians. If these other nations can do it, the Liberal government has absolutely no excuse for refusing to act," said NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan in a statement Monday.
The government is not reviewing the visa requirement at the moment, Jean-Marc Gionet, director general with immigration program guidance, testified at the Commons foreign affairs committee Monday.
Fraser told the briefing that Canada has installed extra resources in offices in Poland, Austria and Romania to improve capacity to handle a potential influx of applications to come to Canada.
"Our goal is to identify the best path forward to allow more Ukrainians to come to Canada easily and safely," Fraser said.
The government has also extended temporary status to Ukrainians who are already in Canada on work, visitor and student permits and cannot return home.
As for Canadians in Russia, the prime minister would not commit to repatriating those who could potentially face a backlash as a result of Canada's actions in support of Ukraine.
The government closed Canada's airspace to Russian aircraft last weekend, and while the government will offer assistance to people facing difficulty throughout the world, Trudeau said the situation is very difficult.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2022.
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