Skip to main content

Ukrainian refugees walk to the exit after arriving on a train from Odesa at Przemysl Glowny train station, after fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Poland, on April 7.LEONHARD FOEGER/Reuters

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says the world may have to consider permanent resettlement of Ukrainian refugees if Russia’s war develops into a protracted crisis.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail Thursday, Filippo Grandi said Canada’s decision to fast-track Ukrainian immigration applications – rather than offering a dedicated refugee program – is an appropriate response to the current situation. He said the government’s special immigration measures for Ukrainians, launched last month, are helping to relieve the pressure on Ukraine’s neighbours, which have taken in the bulk of the more than 4.3 million people who have fled since Russia invaded on Feb. 24. Mr. Grandi was in Ottawa this week for meetings with Canadian officials, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“If the situation is protracted, we will have more complex situations coming up and then most likely we will have to go to a more traditional refugee resettlement situation. But I think now there’s too much uncertainty and too much urgency at the same time and too many numbers, so this approach is valid,” said Mr. Grandi of Canada’s response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis.

More than 112,000 people have applied to Canada’s streamlined immigration program for Ukrainians, with the government approving nearly 30,000 of those applications so far.

Mr. Grandi said the Russia-Ukraine war is still in the “very, very early days” and many refugees may want to return home if it becomes possible. He is urging governments, including Canada’s, to remain nimble in their response to a growing global displacement crisis, which has been worsened by the war in Ukraine.

“I think the key word here is fluidity of the situation and have flexibility in the responses. We have to have all the scenarios in mind and be ready to tackle them. That was my message here in Ottawa,” he said.

Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly accuses Russia of war crimes in Bucha, but won’t expel diplomats

UN refugee chief warns world is headed toward 100 million displaced people as Russia-Ukraine war rages on

Speaking at a news conference in Ottawa Wednesday, Mr. Grandi said that as of Feb. 24, the UN refugee agency counted 84 million refugees and displaced people worldwide, adding that number has likely grown to between 90 and 95 million since Russia invaded Ukraine. He warned the world is barrelling toward an unprecedented displacement total of 100 million people, which will make humanitarian and resettlement responses increasingly difficult.

Mr. Grandi said some refugees risk being forgotten or neglected. He expressed specific concern about the Rohingya people who fled violence in Myanmar; South Sudanese and Congolese refugees in Uganda; and Venezuelan refugees displaced by that country’s political and economic crisis.

In Canada, the Conservatives and NDP have accused the Liberals of creating a two-tier system that prioritizes Ukrainians over refugees from other countries, such as Afghanistan, who continue to face notoriously long wait times that have bogged down the government’s immigration and refugee resettlement system for years. Last year, the government promised to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees. As of March 31, 10,025 Afghans have arrived in Canada, raising concerns about the slow resettlement process.

Mr. Grandi said he raised this concern with Canadian officials but was assured the special immigration measures for Ukrainians are not having an impact on the refugee streams. He said he had similar concerns last year that pledges from countries, such as Canada, to resettle Afghans would means refugees from some African countries may be neglected.

“Unfortunately, the multiplication of crises creates, unwittingly perhaps, a competition between them, and my message is don’t forget the others,” he said.

“These things are very complex. We need to accept the reality that there are urgent cases without neglecting the older case load of people.”

Mr. Grandi wrapped up his two-day trip to Ottawa Thursday and will head to Toronto Friday, where he will meet refugees and hold a round table discussion with high-level private donors to the UN refugee agency.

Residents of the Ukrainian town of Bucha, northwest of capital Kyiv, started venturing out from their homes on April 6, picking through the rubble and debris to see what is left of their town following its recapture by Ukrainian troops after weeks of Russian occupation.

Reuters

For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.