Beginning of reservations for Ukrainian refugee flights to Canada

OTTAWA — Early next week, Ottawa will begin reserving seats on a first-come, first-served basis for the first of three federally chartered flights to ferry Ukrainian refugees to Canada.

Some 900 refugees from Ukraine are expected to arrive in late May and early June, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told The Star on Friday, as efforts to welcome the migrants come to fruition.

Registration for flights for those who received special emergency travel authorization to Ukraine has not yet started, his office said later, but will open via an online portal early this week.

Starting with a May 23 flight arriving in Winnipeg; followed by a May 29 charter flight to Montreal and a June 2 flight arriving in Halifax, planes carrying some 300 passengers at a time will depart Warsaw for Canada.

Fraser said he also expects a program that encourages Canadians to donate air miles to relief efforts in Ukraine, which is expected to fly 10,000 refugees here, will soon hit its target and launch flights.

However, logistics have been complicated as many refugees who were cleared for special measures announced by Ottawa on March 17 still fear leaving Europe or traveling too far from Ukraine. After the February 24 invasion by Russia, husbands, brothers and fathers between the ages of 18 and 60 had to stay to help with the war effort, and many of their families want to stay closer to this country.

Other families are also still on the move even after receiving permission to migrate to other countries, Fraser said, noting that Belgium was willing to take in 200,000 refugees but only 35,000 had arrived.

The Miles4Migrants program that Air Canada coordinates with the Shapiro Foundation has reached approximately 95% of its goal of collecting 150 million points.

Canada has not set a limit on the number of Ukrainians it is willing to admit for up to three years under the emergency measures program. Once here, they would be eligible for a work or study permit, and Ottawa expects many to return to Ukraine once it is safe to do so.

As of Thursday, 223,664 Ukrainians had applied to enter Canada under the program, and 104,553 had been approved.

According to Ottawa, since January 1, more than 28,000 Ukrainian nationals have arrived in Canada, most by air.

Last week, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy publicly called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to completely remove visa requirements for Ukrainian nationals. But Fraser insisted the Special Travel Authorization was the quickest way to facilitate their entry.

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