Toronto and Ottawa—Canada is opening its doors to thousands of victims of Asia’s deadly tsunamis, pledging to expedite immigration requests from disaster-stricken foreigners with relatives in this country.
The move could bring as many as 5,000 newcomers to Canada, according to one estimate, as those left homeless by the disaster call on their Canadian relatives to come to their rescue.
Canadians sponsoring spouses, common-law partners and children who are in disaster-affected areas will be given immediate priority, but Citizenship and Immigration Canada will also consider requests on a case-by-case basis to sponsor other relatives including aunts, uncles and grandparents, said Mark Dunn, spokesman for Immigration Minister Judy Sgro.
“We think it will be most used in Sri Lanka, only because there are many Canadians [of] Sri Lankan descent living here,” he predicted. “There is no discussion of a cap on the numbers of relatives who may be sponsored. Things are so fluid, we really don’t know how many to expect.”
CIC does not expect to introduce a program to grant temporary residency to tsunami victims like the one in May, 1999, when 5,000 Kosovar refugees were airlifted to Canada from the war-torn Balkan region. “This is not a refugee situation; it’s a humanitarian crisis. There has been no discussion of an airlift,” Mr. Dunn noted.
Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, who has been urging Ottawa to assist those left homeless and destitute, estimated that more than 5,000 Asians will come to Canada.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” said Mr. Karygiannis, who represents the Toronto riding of Scarborough-Agincourt, where many immigrants from Sri Lanka live.
He said he has received 20 to 30 calls an hour from constituents fearing for the well-being of their relatives in the disaster area, and has asked people to bring their questions to a public meeting today in Toronto.
Mendel Green, a Toronto immigration lawyer, said his office has also received many calls.
People are “frightened about their family members who have been left with no home, and no money, only their families in Canada,” he said.
Mr. Dunn urged MPs and senators not to contact Canadian missions overseas on behalf of their constituents, because embassies and consulates in Colombo, Bangkok, New Delhi and Jakarta are already swamped with visa applications from those on the ground.
Instead, Mr. Dunn said, MPs should forward their constituents’ sponsorship applications directly to the department’s Ottawa headquarters.
Normally, applications to sponsor family members can take as long as five years in the case of grandparents and one year for spouses.
A notice on CIC’s website posted late yesterday noted that Canada’s missions in Bangkok and Colombo would give priority emergency services for Canadians affected by the disaster, and to visas for their non-Canadian dependents.
Then the visa offices in these cities, as well as in New Dehli and Jakarta, will give priority consideration to applicants who have been “directly and significantly affected by the disaster and who have immediate family members in Canada.”
CIC will also consider extending visitor, student and work visas for people from the disaster area who are already in Canada.
Mr. Dunn compared these special measures to Ottawa’s response to Hurricane Ivan in September, 2004, when it expedited family-sponsorship applications of those affected by the storm in Grenada, Jamaica and other Caribbean nations.