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Haitians wait in line and hold buckets for water distributed from a fire truck on January 15, 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Haiti is trying to recover from a powerful 7.0-strong earthquake that struck and devastated the nation on January 12.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Canada is giving immigration priority to Haitians "significantly and adversely" affected by the earthquake that shattered the country.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said today it will be easier for Canadians to sponsor Haitians for immigration, including family members, "protected persons" and children being adopted by Canadians.

"Immigration Canada will respond on a priority basis to those directly affected by the disaster; we will prioritize processing of new sponsorship applications made by Canadian citizens," he said, adding that applicants "must identify themselves as being directly and significantly affected by the earthquake" and "must of course meet the standard admisssibility requirements of Canadian law."

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As Canada resumes processing immigration applications suspended in the aftermath of the earthquake and opens a satellite immigration office in neighbouring Dominican Republic, the country is also cutting Haitians living in Canada some slack. Temporary residents - including workers and students - can apply to have their stay extended with the fees waived.

Mr. Kenney said Haitians in Canada who have made an application that hasn't been approved yet to prolong their status in Canada will be deemed to have implied status and don't have to worry about their status running out.

Any Haitian nationals being "removed" from Canada have also been granted temporary reprieve, he added.

Meanwhile, the number of Canadians missing in Haiti has dropped to 1,362 since Friday as more survivors are found, even as Canada's emergency aid to the region switches from urgent search-and-rescue missions to a humanitarian response and "stabilization," Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said.

This brings the total number of Canadians found to 781 out of an estimated 6,000 Canadians in Haiti at the time of the quake. Four hundred and sixty have been evacuated to Canada by the armed forces. The Department of Foreign Affairs' hotline has received more than 21,000 calls from concerned family members since the quake.

The updated numbers came in a Saturday-morning press conference - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's first since Tuesday's 7.0 earthquake.

The earthquake's devastation was "instant, utter, and widespread," Mr. Harper said.

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"Homes have been flattened, almost every major government building has been damaged beyond repair and hardly any of the telephones work. Canada has, as you know, a close and historic relationship with the government and people of Haiti. And we take our role of security in the mission very seriously."

Defence Minister Peter MacKay outlined Canada's aggressive aid mission to Haiti, which by the end of the weekend will include 230 Canadian troops, once two more aircraft arrive with supplies and personnel.

So far Canada had provided more than 100 tonnes of emergency supplies, Mr. MacKay said, adding that navigating the rubble of Haiti's capital is one of the biggest hurdles in providing aid.

"Mobility in Haiti remains a primary challenge for all, including our operations. Major infrastructure damage is hampering road movement across the Port-au-Prince area. ... Make no mistake about it, this is an immense challenge."

Joint Task Force Haiti is being lead by Brigadier-General Guy LaRoche, who commanded Canadian forces in Afghanistan for several months in 2007 and 2008, as well as Canadian troops in Bosnia and Cypress. Brig.-Gen. LaRoche is scheduled to arrive in Haiti on Saturday.

Mr. Harper emphasized this is a long-term, ramped-up aid effort.

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"No one expects that this emergency assistance ... is the end of the effort," he said. "We expect the necessity of increased foreign aid to this country over the long haul to be very, very real. And that is something, obviously, that we'll be working on with our international partners on in the weeks and months to come."

Mr. Harper also expressed his condolences to the families of the six Canadians killed in Haiti so far: Canadian International Development Agency workers Guillaume Siemienski and Hélène Rivard were confirmed dead late Friday night. Others killed are Elmira, Ont., nurse Yvonne Martin; RCMP Sergeant Mark Gallagher of Nova Scotia; and prominent academics Georges and Mireille Anglade.

"They died in the service of their country and we obviously honour their sacrifice," Mr. Harper said. "However, as we weep for all those who have died, Canadians are doing their utmost to give hope to those who are living."

In the U.S., President Barack Obama met with his two predecessors on Saturday morning to announce they're jointly spearheading a massive aid effort to address the need for disaster-relief in Haiti.

Former President Bill Clinton, who is also the U.S. envoy to Haiti, called Tuesday's earthquake "the largest loss of life in the history of the United Nations on a single day."

The fund, set up online at bushclintonhaitifund.com, aims to raise billions of dollars to supplement the U.S. food and emergency supplies already being distributed in Haiti.

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"Responding to disaster must be the work of all of us," Mr. Obama said. "By coming together in this way, these two leaders send an unmistakable message to the people of Haiti and to the people of the world."

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