Canadian Response Needed to the Rapidly Developing Refugee Crisis in Ukraine

World Refugee & Migration Council Statement — 26 February 2022

The invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces is already leading to large numbers of Ukrainians seeking safety in neighbouring countries from the widening war affecting civilians throughout Ukraine. The numbers are already staggering and projected to grow into the millions.

Countries around the world must step up to provide a lifeline to Ukrainian refugees. We are encouraged by the initial response of neighbouring countries to welcome Ukrainians in urgent need of protection. While many Ukrainians will want to remain in the region as they await an opportunity to safely return home, others will seek opportunities elsewhere. 

Canada must plan now to take a million or more Ukrainian refugees. The federal government should also initiate discussions immediately with the provinces on a nation-wide coordination and resettlement plan while simultaneously integrating its efforts with its allies.

We stress that exceptional commitments Canada can make to support Ukrainian refuges must be over and above the vital efforts Canada has already promised for refugees elsewhere, including in Afghanistan, Uganda and Syria.

As when it received Hungarian refugees following attacks by Soviet troops in 1956 and in its extensive and coordinated response to resettle Vietnamese refugees following the Vietnam War, Canada must make an extraordinary effort to lead on the response to the people of Ukraine.

As such, the World Refugee & Migration Council calls on the Government of Canada to lead international efforts toward ensuring responsibility sharing for Ukrainian refugees and to:

  • Immediately deploy visa officers to the borders of receiving countries, especially Poland, Moldova, Romania, and Hungary, which are among the neighbouring countries already receiving the majority of Ukrainian refugees.
  • Arrange transportation for a major and sustained airlift operation to Canada.
  • Prioritize private sponsorship of refugees, building on the significant Ukrainian diaspora in Canada.
  • Work with countries in the region through diplomacy to keep their borders open to Ukrainians seeking safety and to grant them prima facie refugee status.
  • Support relief efforts for the 1.5 million Ukrainians who were already displaced within the borders of Ukraine due to previous Russian aggression as well as potentially millions likely to be displaced as a result of the current crisis.
  • Support the work of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross and the many other United Nations and non-governmental organizations who are providing vital humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians, both inside Ukraine and in neighbouring countries and recognize that assistance will be needed over the long term.

Photo: © UNHCR/Chris Melzer