A Kamloops pastor has heard from a pair of locals trying to get Ukrainian refugee family members to Canada, which has the local MP calling on the federal government to waive visa requirements.
Pastor Andrzej Wasylinko of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Church in North Kamloops told KTW a city man reached out to him for advice on entering Ukraine, intent on travelling there to assist his wife’s family in evacuating a Russian-occupied part of the country.
The Kamloops man made it to Poland and texted Wasylinko, telling the pastor he had managed to get the family members out of Ukraine.
Wasylinko said the man was heading to a Canadian embassy in a NATO-friendly country.
“He just texted that they are out. I didn’t have any details, but that’s the most important part,” Wasylinko told KTW. “I don’t know how he managed.”
Wasylinko said he hopes their visas will come through soon, noting he asked the man to stay in touch with him if he needs anything.
Wasylinko said he has also been trying to help another Kamloops resident seeking to bring to Canada a Ukrainian relative who had already fled to Germany from Ukraine.
He said the family would travel to Europe to bring the person to Canada immediately, but they cannot due to the visa requirement.
Wasylinko, a Polish-born pastor of Ukrainian descent, knows first-hand what it’s like to be a refugee and said it will be important, but also challenging, to speed up the visa process.
“To go through the regular process of applying, signing all the papers, going for the medicals, waiting for a visa, it usually takes a year, maybe couple years,” he said. “And in the case of war now, we cannot afford that process.”
Wasylinko reached out to Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Frank Caputo regarding the immigration issues, which has the Conservative member of Parliament asking Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Sean Fraser to eliminate visa requirements for Ukrainian refugees altogether to speed up the process.
Caputo has asked the federal ministry to allow Ukrainian refugees visa-free travel into Canada or to ensure processing of applications within 72 hours so that those fleeing war have a timeline to enter Canada.
A three-day timeline should be enough to process applications while respecting the urgency of the situation, Caputo told KTW.
“I have heard from many constituents that the visa requirement for refugees fleeing this rapidly evolving situation is overly burdensome. It puts unnecessary barriers between refugees and Canada,” Caputo wrote in his letter to the ministry.
He said his staff informed him most Ukrainian refugees wanting to come to Canada have to wait up to two weeks for security clearances and background checks.
“This may be tantamount to life or death for some,” Caputo wrote.
He told KTW the visa process also involves added steps, such as fingerprinting, which can be done at 30 diplomatic sites across Europe.
While the federal government has initiated a Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel for a limitless number of people fleeing Ukraine to come to Canada temporarily, Caputo noted it’s still a visa application and it is not clear how long those approvals will take.
“My concern is, why aren’t we getting people on planes?” Caputo told KTW.
Minister Fraser has said the new applications would take just weeks to process, rather than the usual span of a year, and the federal government has said it is eliminating many of the normal visa requirements, but not all of them.
There are 140 countries and territories where Ukrainians can travel to without a visa, or by obtaining one upon arrival, including all of Western Europe, except the U.K., much of the Americas, except Canada and the U.S., and many African and Asian nations.
“I commend the government in their quick decision-making to this point. I believe, however, that this policy clearly lags behind that of other Western democracies,” Caputo wrote. “We learned the consequences of failing to do so for Afghan refugees. I hope that history does not repeat itself. Ukrainian lives depend on it.”