A Ukrainian father’s attempt to send his children to Canada to escape the war has dragged out for more than a month after a detour to Mexico because of Canadian red tape, say a BC humanitarian worker and a Ukrainian diplomat.
They say Ukrainians who speak no English, and have no computer skills and no money for flights are being let down by Canada, which promised to provide a haven from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“There’s lots of red tape with the whole immigration system,” said Ihon Lubomyr Huculak, the honorary consul for Ukraine in Vancouver. “It’s ridiculous and it’s been ridiculous since Day 1.”
Huculak, an immigration lawyer, said the Canadian government’s promise of the waiving of visa and biometrics fees and an extended work and visitor visa means nothing.
Canada has closed its embassy in Ukraine because of the war and Ukrainians have to phone Ottawa or travel to another country to apply for a visa to travel to Canada, a process that is completed within 14 days, according to an email from Canadian Immigration staff.
As of Friday, over 119,000 visa applications have been completed since March 17 and 31,895 have been approved, according to the Immigration and Refugee Citizenship Canada website.
“Europe has opened their doors, but Canada has got a few dozen. They need a better system,” said Huculak.
Six related Ukrainians, four children, a mother and a grandmother, who have encountered costly hurdles in their quest to join a family, is an example of how frustrating it can be to get into Canada.
About two weeks after the start of the war, a Ukrainian father sent his two children, 5 and 17, and the five-year-old’s grandmother, along with the two children’s cousins, 8 and 13, and their mother, to Warsaw.
The father and his wife work in a profession that prevented them from leaving, but they wanted to send their children and the others to stay with an aunt in Montreal. On March 3, they were told the wait to have a visa approved was two weeks to a couple of months.
Rather than put them up in Warsaw for that long, I have reached out to a BC friend, Roman Sawycky, the president of the Vancouver branch of Ukrainian Social Services. The 17-year-old is Sawycky’s goddaughter.
Ukrainian Social Services has been helping Ukrainian immigrants settle in BC since before the war.
Sawycky was vacationing in Puerto Vallarta and heard Mexico was accepting Ukrainians without a visa. So the group of six flew to Mexico to try to immigrate to Canada from there, said Sawycky.
The Ukrainian nationals arrived in Mexico on March 6. They have been staying with Sawycky and his wife as Sawycky tries to get them to Canada.
He said he’s been stymied on a number of fronts trying to help them because they don’t speak English and he is not a relative.
For example, I needed to get a notarized letter from the cousin’s dad permitting his children to go to Canada.
And he said staff at Canada’s embassy in Mexico City told the grandmother, 65, she needed to provide biometric information even though those 60-plus and those 18-and-under are supposed to be exempt.
“I am truly, truly disappointed in the Canadian government,” said Sawycky.
He doesn’t know how or when the six visitors will get to Canada.
“All the IRCC can say is, ‘We’re working on it, we’re going to sort it out, we’ll let you know’,” he said.
IRCC spokesman Jeffrey MacDonald said in an email he couldn’t discuss a specific case.
“The kids are happy, they’re in the pool most of the day, but the grandmother and the mother are frustrated as hell, and the 17-year-old is trying to finish her last year in high school online,” Sawycky said .
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