'We need to step up': Humanitarians bringing Ukrainians to Canada want visa process sped up

Pastor Tim Gibb of Bethel Church in Sarnia, Ont. has been working diligently to bring Ukrainians to Lambton County.

“We have three families arriving this week two on Wednesday and one on Thursday,” said Gibb.

However with millions more fleeing to neighbouring countries, Gibb would like to see the Canadian federal government speed up their visa process for visitors.

“We provided bus tickets for two single moms to go from Kyiv to Warsaw around the third week of March,” said Gibb.

“They didn’t get their biometrics until April 6, and we were of the opinion that within a couple of days after their biometrics, they certainly would have their visa and be on their way to Canada," he said. "Well, the one mom just got her visa last week with her two children, and we're [bringing] them here this Wednesday. The other is still waiting for the visa and we have no idea when it's going to show up."

Recent data shows Canada as a top destination for immigrants around the world, but with a backlog of more than two million applicants, frustrations are mounting. Ukrainians have been moved to the front of the line.

“Since January, over 20,000 Ukrainians have settled in Canada and we continue to stay focused on the effort every month,” said Peter Fragiskatos, London North Centre MP.

He says his government has allocated more public servants to the effort of taking care of security checks and other necessary things to get people from their current country to Canada.

“We've allocated not just resources in terms of people, but opened up new offices in places like Warsaw and Poland and Berlin as well, to make sure that that process unfolds as quickly as possible,” he said. “At this point, 180,000 Ukrainians have applied to come to Canada on a temporary basis. 70,000 have already been given approval, and as I said, 20,000 have been here since January and so I know that there is heavy pressure on the Canadian government to secure as many people's arrival here as possible.”

Fragiskatos added, “That pressure is coming from a number of voices, especially the Ukrainian community. I can understand where they're coming from. I sympathize deeply and certainly I'm raising my voice for us to work even faster.”

However Ed Dickson from the humanitarian organization Loads of Love in Chatham, Ont. says Poland is overwhelmed and there are reports than some Ukrainians are returning to their home country after waiting for approval to get a visa.

“You can only imagine the frustration as Poland and those countries have done their duty — they've invited those people in by the millions,” said Dickson. “It's our time to step up.”

Dickson tells CTV News his organization has evacuated more than 5,000 people from bomb shelters in the eastern part of Ukraine. He was just there a few weeks ago and saw a Russian missile land less than a kilometre from where he was staying.

“We need to help people get more quickly out of those areas,” said Dickson.

“These people have gone through so much having their homes bombed in many cases and they've had to flee the area. They are in other countries and they’re being told that they have to leave some of those places now,” Dickson added. “Here in Canada, we've got people all set up. I know in Sarnia we've got over 20 families that are ready to take people in and ready to help people and just a matter of getting them here.”

Fragiskatos understands the frustration, but feels the effort is unfolding with relative success.

“If we look at some previous cases, the Syrian example stands out for instance, there has been about 50 or 60,000 Syrians who have arrived but that since 2015, only in a few months, we've seen 20,000 arrive this far and 70,000 more have been approved,” said Fragiskatos.

“We have to be a compassionate country, but we also have to be a responsible country. That means living up to our international obligations where we are accepting those who are seeking refuge from Ukraine to Canada. We're also contributing to the Ukrainian efforts in the struggle against Russia,” he added.