Advocates worry that Ukrainian refugees attempting to flee to Canada will be sidelined by bureaucratic red tape as thousands of Afghan interpreters and their families fight for their own promised resettlement.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will get as many Ukrainians to Canada as quickly as possible through two new immigration streams.

Under the Canada Ukraine Authorization For Emergency Travel program, there won’t be a limit on the number of Ukrainians coming to Canada on a temporary basis.

But those who are trying to flee the country amid a violent Russian occupation are already facing red tape, raising concerns that the program will fall short of its promises.

“The last thing on a person’s mind is when bombs are falling over your head is: ‘Do you have your COVID vaccine,’” Bohdan Dolban told CTV National News.

Dolban is attempting to help his cousins ​​flee Ukraine and come to Canada. While they are safe for now, they live just an hour away from where Russian forces bombed a Ukrainian military base.

“They didn’t give a lot of information and when they tried to call, it would keep ringing or go to an answering machine with no answer,” he explained.

The Mississauga, Ont. man says he’s concerned that the red tape involved in the immigration process will jeopardize his family’s safety — a concern many Afghanistan refugees know all too well.

In August 2021, Canada vowed to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees after the Taliban’s takeover of the country. Many of those refugees include interpreters who aided the Canadian military during their time in Afghanistan. Now, they and their families are in hiding, targeted for their role in the war.

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In seven months, almost 15,000 Afghans have applied through the special immigration process and more than 10,000 have been approved, but just 8,580 have actually arrived in Canada.

“They’re left applying mostly through the regular immigration routes, which of course takes a very, very long time,” Chantal Desloges, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer, told CTV National News.

“Most of the time it’s not an attainable situation for them to wait that long because they are in danger.”

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says more than 8,500 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Canada since January. However, it’s unclear how many of those cases are directly related to the current Russian crisis.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser has called the situation in Afghanistan “quite different” from what’s happening in Ukraine, saying that most of the displaced Ukrainians want to return home in the future.

“One of the big differences is the fact that the people who are fleeing Afghanistan, we’re planning to have them become Canadians and to live here forever. When you have a permanent resettlement process, that works into our annual levels planning to make sure that we’re prepared to resettle and set people up for success on a permanent basis,” Fraser told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday.

Fraser also pointed out that, unlike Ukrainians who have safe passage towards neighboring countries to the west of Ukraine, many Afghans have struggled to leave Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

– With files from Tom Yun

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