Speaking Notes for the Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Update on several IRCC initiatives
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi provide an update on several IRCC initiatives.
April 6, 2022
Good afternoon everyone. I’m absolutely honoured to be joined here by my – my friend Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. High Commissioner Grandi and UNHCR have been amongst Canada’s strongest partners in our global humanitarian efforts. And I want to deeply and publicly thank you for – for your support now spanning many years.
High Commissioner Grandi and I today discussed both Canada’s plans to welcome visitors fleeing the war in Ukraine as well as the country’s ongoing commitment to welcome Afghan Nationals to Canada. Comme nous l’avons annonce, le Canada accueille les personnes qui fuient les guerres en Ukraine et cherchent un refuge temporaire.
Working with partners, we’re going to continue to do everything that we can to make sure Ukrainians are supported over the course of their stay in Canada. Since January 1st more than 12,000 Ukrainians have arrived here in Canada. And over the past two weeks since launching applications for the new expedited process, the Canada Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel, we’ve now received more than 112,000 applications from individuals who are seeking to come to Canada. And in the last number of days we have now approved more than 26,500.
As you know this program will allow Ukrainians to come to Canada for three years with open work and study permits that will allow them to work and take courses immediately.
To support Canada’s response we acted early. This includes streamlining our processing and visa requirements while prioritizing the safety and security of Canadians at the same time. To reduce the pressure on biometrics collection we are exempting biometrics for certain individuals from low-risk cohorts including youth up to the age of 18, people over the age of 60 as well as those who have a – a travel history to Canada who’ve followed the rules in previous – previous visits.
Again these decisions regarding biometric exemptions have been taken with great care because we want to make sure that we maintain the confidence of Canadians that we have a – a process in place that both expedites the arrival of Ukrainians and – and doesn’t compromise on the – the important security outcomes of – of the biometrics assessment.
We continue to look for ways to help Ukrainians and to identify what supports they will need once they arrive in Canada because we know that their journey will not end when they arrive.
Even though most are arriving as temporary residents we announced recently that we would also expand settlement support for all Ukrainians coming to Canada in recognition of the special circumstances that they’re facing. This means Ukrainians will have access to key services to help them settle into their new communities. This will include things like language training and employment assistance services for women, seniors, youth and LGBTQ2+ persons.
But it also includes in many instances the soft supports that allow a person to do well after they arrive in Canada. Sometimes it’s little things like making sure that people understand how to sign their kids up for a soccer club or how to ride the bus. And sometimes it’s big things like providing childcare while parents are undertaking language training supports.
For this, we rely on more than 550 settlement services agencies across Canada who are mobilizing to play a key role in supporting Ukrainians after their arrival.
I also want to highlight that starting this month the Canadian Red Cross with support from the government of Canada is providing Ukrainians with arrival packages at –
initially at Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton airports. These packages include key information on supports and services as well as information in Ukrainian.
This is what we must do. We know that coming to live in a new country even temporarily is not easy. And we will continue to look for ways to further support Ukrainians after they’ve arrived.
I want to make clear that notwithstanding the enormous effort that we’re putting behind Ukraine we also remain extremely committed to helping those we’ve made a commitment to in Afghanistan. Last week I had the privilege of greeting a charter flight at Pearson International Airport with nearly 300 privately-sponsored refugees. This marked an important milestone in Canada’s resettlement initiative with respect to Afghanistan because it marked the arrival of – of 10,000 Afghan refugees since the beginning of the humanitarian crisis.
I should also point out that earlier today an additional flight arrived in Calgary with more than 330 Afghan refugees who will now be given a second lease on life here in Canada. In fact when I was in Calgary just a couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune of bumping into a recently-arrived Afghan refugee on the street who recognized me and wanted to say thank you to Canada.
After a short conversation and – and an expression of gratitude and a hug to welcome him to – to our country, ninety seconds later he found seven or eight friends who arrived on the same flight and came running down Steven Avenue, I used to live in Calgary and I’m – I’m attached to the City, and – and it’s a moment I’m never going to forget.
These are people who just got out of quarantine; it was I think their first or second day that they were actually allowed to explore Canada, and I was one of the first people they bumped into. And it gave me faith that – that we’re doing the right thing to make a substantial commitment to those who fled the Taliban in Afghanistan and are now living in Canada.
Being able to welcome personally those who arrived on the plane at Pearson last week, it – it was an incredible moment. You know I put it into perspective for myself, 10,000 people. I live in the Town of New Glasgow. There are fewer than 10,000 people live in the Town of New Glasgow. To think of my entire community is represented in the scale of the people who’ve already arrived in Canada, and that we’re going to continue to go to 40,000, is extraordinary to me.
But what really struck with me – stuck with me is the – like you see kids when you’re a parent and you see kids the same age as your own kids who might not remember what it was like to live under Taliban rule. I’ve had the chance to meet a number of kids who’ve come to Canada as refugees that are adjusting to life in Canada the same way that my kids are. And it’s – it’s an extraordinary thing to see the – the difference that – that this program is going to make in their lives.
The stories of these newcomers don’t – don’t end with the – with the arrival of an airplane. You know they come to Canada in communities large and small that are welcoming Afghans with open arms.
We have helped even more Afghans arrive quickly and safely in Canada to start their new lives. And we are determined to meet our goal of resettling at least 40,000 Afghan refugees.
I want to emphasize that we remain seized with this effort and are going to continue to work with provinces and – and territories resettlement and ser – settlement service providers, private sponsors and other stakeholders to welcome additional Afghan refugees.
I want to – I also want to point out that – that Canada is not the only country that is committed to developing new initiatives to help refugees who come to seek – to seek refuge in our country.
Today we had the opportunity to join leaders from other nations around the world and international organizations to launch an exciting new initiative that I’m very proud of. And that’s the Global Taskforce on Refugee Labour Mobility. And I’m very honoured that Canada is serving as the inaugural chair of this taskforce. We’re going to engage with Global stakeholders from government, businesses, NGO’s and civil society to increase the number of skilled refugees that are welcome to Canada while decreasing labour shortages where Canada needs it most.
This initiative builds off a – a ground-breaking program that is borne and bred here in Canada. The Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot, or EMPP as we – we call it for short, is a program that recognizes the skills and abilities of refugees and allows them and their families to immigrate to Canada through existing economic programs. What it really allows us to do is level the playing field for refugees who are forced to flee their countries through no fault of their own by providing an alternative pathway to Canada.
And this pathway is complementary to our resettlement efforts that allow Canada to do even more to help some of the millions of – of displaced people around the world. So it’s over and above the existing humanitarian commitments that we’ve made. Through the EMPP we’re on track this year to resettle over 500 refugees.
But I do have the intent to significantly expand – expand this program in the years ahead to attract thousands of more refugees or displaced talent to Canada while upholding our proud humanitarian commitments. I’ve seen this program work in my community. There’s a business – not a business – a long-term care facility, Glen Haven Manor, its five minutes from my home. There’s a cohort of employees who were trained as health professionals abroad who happen to be refugees.
But they were brought to become healthcare workers in our community through economic streams. They’re allowing my friend’s parents to receive care in the community where they have lived for many years. These are people who are making an enormous difference.
I think to myself despite the fact that we’ve recovered more than 112% of the jobs lost during the pandemic before the Omicron variant landed in our communities there was over 900,000 job vacancies. The opportunity that we have before us to use this program to change the way the world thinks about refugees, not just as people who are needing – need of assistance though they are very much that as well, but people who can make an immense contribution to our communities, make our communities more vibrant and dynamic places to live. This is the opportunity that is staring the world in the face and Canada as part of this global taskforce is going to seize this opportunity.
By expanding this program it will be easier to – to appeal to talent from around the world while providing refuge here in Canada for refugees.
Overall as High Commissioner Grandi and I – I think will agree the actions that I’ve discussed today continue Canada’s long tradition of humanitarian contributions around the world. They demonstrate our ongoing commitment to sharing responsibility for the worlds displaced and worlds persecuted.
Again it’s an absolute honour to have High Commissioner Grandi visiting with us and I’d now invite him to say a few words. Thank you.