Differing experience of Ukrainian and Palestinian refugees exposes government’s double standard

By Judy Haiven  

From March 2022 to March 2024, more than 961,975 Ukrainian nationals were approved to live in Canada on work/study visas, and to wait out the war between Ukraine and Russia.   As of December 2023, more than 286,752 Ukrainians arrived in Canada. Once here, most are eligible for permanent residency, and able to sponsor family members.

The federal government brought in special rules, the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) is one of “the many special measures the Government of Canada has introduced to support the people of Ukraine.” There are free settlement services for Ukrainians who come to Canada until March 2025. Services include help to look for a job, help to obtain get a language assessment, registration for language classes, help to sign up children for school, and access to other community services.

In addition, hundreds of community and church groups have sprung up to help Ukrainian families, be it with housing, furnishings, medical assistance or with employment.

Other than to assist in humanitarian efforts, the major reason Canada’s federal government gave for their wholehearted support of Ukrainians was that more than 4 percent of Canada’s population reported their ethnic origin as being from Ukraine. So, it was felt that Ukrainians would “fit in” here.

However, the 2021 census tells us that more than 4.9 percent of Canada’s population are Muslims, and many families originated came here from the Middle East.

So, what is the difference between how Ukrainians were admitted and treated by the government and how Muslims were admitted and treated? What was our government’s support for Palestinians who wanted to enter Canada due to Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza?

It was only in early January 2024 – three months after Israel started to destroy Gaza, after 20,258 Palestinians had been killed and more than 53,000 injured in their homes and on the streets of Gaza – that our government agreed to admit any Gazans as they did Ukrainians. But the Minister of Immigration set a maximum immigration limit of 1,000 families. And this was after a fight.

“Hard cap” vs “Soft cap” for Palestinians admitted

Ten days into January 2024, Immigration Minister Marc Miller had to walk back the “hard cap” of 1,000 Gazans and insist it was a “soft cap.” Miller said he’d be “flexible.”

The government offered virtually no special services to the Palestinians. Instead, the government insisted the Palestinians jump through hoops that were all but impossible.  Just to access the paperwork, the biometrics and the health exams, and get the $500 fee to apply has proved nearly impossible for people who live on the streets, in the ruins of buildings or in tents throughout Gaza. All offices and businesses are shuttered or destroyed. There is no access to embassy help, other than in Egypt which Gazans typically can’t enter. Borders are controlled and now sealed by the Israelis and the Egyptians.

More than a million Palestinians are living in tents, or on the side of the roads near Rafah, and Egypt is allowing hardly any to cross to get their papers processed. Meanwhile, more than 34,600 Palestinians – officially — have been killed by Israel. Hundreds more are dying each week. On top of the homes and structures that have been destroyed by Israeli bombs and missiles, there is very little humanitarian aid allowed in, so people are dying of lack of water, food and medicine. Every hospital has been bombed and at least partially destroyed. Operations or treatments take place on what remains of hospital floors without anaesthetic – this includes limb amputations on children.

But many, many people in Canada want to support them.  GoFundMe has three pages, and more than 36 different extended families featured who need money from Canadian strangers to help fund family and friends to escape to Canada from the murder zone which is Gaza. That doesn’t count the hundreds of personal requests for charity and giving to help these families come here.

By contrast there was a special CUAET emergency relocation program for citizens of Ukraine. Also, international funds organized special flights and provided free air tickets to Canada for Ukrainian refugees. According to the VisitUkraine.today blog, the Open Arms, Solidaire and Integralia DKV Foundations organized free flights from Warsaw to the airport in Regina, Saskatchewan. Tickets were provided with the “active support” of the provincial authorities.

The rules that applied to the Ukrainians simply don’t apply to the Palestinians. It’s a double standard. To receive even a temporary visa for Canada, the Palestinians have to live in Gaza, be directly related to Canadian citizens or permanent residents, and receive guaranteed support from relatives who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents in order to live in Canada for their first year.

Ukrainians didn’t require guarantors; there was no limit to how many could come here, and they did not require any mandatory family connections to people in Canada. In addition, they can stay without question for up to three years, and then can apply for permanent residency.

Judy Haiven is a Halifax member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada – this article is slightly edited from an original at her blog. Judy can be reached at jhaiven <at> gmail.com

Photo of displaced people from Rafah: WAFA

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