Surveys and immigration policies suggest Canadians prefer some refugees over others

March 24, 2022

By Vancouver Sun |

A new survey seems to suggest that Canadians prefer certain refugees over others, an outcome that some observers say is reflected in our country’s refugee policies.

The Leger survey, commissioned by the Association for Canadian Studies, found 78 per cent of 1,115 Canadians who participated were in favour of an expedited process to bring displaced Ukrainians to Canada. Another survey, conducted for the association last September, found only 55 per cent of 1,544 respondents approved of allowing Afghan refugees into Canada even if they weren’t being expedited.

It’s one of the topics being discussed at the Metropolis Institute conference now underway in Vancouver that includes immigrant services groups, academics, researchers and policy-makers.

Jack Jedwab, CEO of the association and the institute, believes the images of the war in Ukraine are influencing Canadians’ opinions.

“People are seeing Ukrainian people being affected and seeing the devastation caused by the shelling every day, families being torn apart. But we didn’t see that in Afghanistan, except for when we saw people at the airport trying to escape,” he said. “The Ukrainian issue is top-of-mind right now so that could be why.”

But Amyn B. Sajoo, the scholar-in-residence and lecturer at Simon Fraser University’s school of international studies, believes it’s more than that.

“It has a lot to do with who we think are like us,” Sajoo explained. “Ukrainians are white, they are European, which is the cultural ancestry of most Canadians. But during the First World War, Ukrainians were sent to internment camps in Canada. It is about culture and who Canadians can culturally relate to at a given point in time.”

Sajoo said that is reflected in the federal government’s program to bring Ukrainian refugees here quickly. Under Canada’s newly created Temporary Residence Pathway for Ukrainians, those fleeing the war aren’t required to have a visa to enter Canada. Ukrainians and their immediate family members of any nationality may stay in Canada as temporary residents for up to three years. The federal government has created a job bank to connect Canadian businesses with Ukrainian refugees looking for work, along with a dedicated phone line for Ukrainian immigration inquiries, and it’s done this in less than a month.

“We have been told it’s a two-week waiting time to process Ukrainian refugees, but if you try to sponsor a refugee from anywhere else, it’s a two-year wait at least,” said Chris Friesen, COO of the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. “And these other refugees are no less vulnerable than those fleeing the war in Ukraine.”

More than 7,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada in less than a month while 8,700 Syrian refugees have landed here over the past year.

The association’s survey found 45 per cent of respondents would temporarily host a Ukrainian refugee in their home, compared with 24 per cent who would host an Afghan refugee.

Sajoo isn’t surprised.

“I think that we are not willing to accept, even in Parliament, despite shootings and killings, that Islamophobia is a real issue and it’s a systemic problem. So it’s no surprise that people accept that culturally and say, ‘If we are accepting Afghans, what kind of people are these?’ ”

Friesen points out more than 60,000 refugees from Middle Eastern and African countries have been approved as designated permanent residents by Canada and are ready to be received by sponsors but remain stuck in refugee camps and war zones.

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