Faced with growing pressure to evacuate Ukrainian refugees, Ottawa will soon organize three charter flights to bring those fleeing the war to Canada.
According to a government official, speaking on the condition they not be named because they weren’t authorized to speak on the record, the planes will take off from Warsaw in Poland and head for Winnipeg (May 23), Montreal (May 29) and Halifax (June 2).
About 900 Ukrainians, 300 people per flight, will be able to fly to Canada, according to the estimates provided to Radio-Canada.
The federal government is to make the announcement on Wednesday morning.
Ottawa has agreed with a private carrier to carry out the operation and will pay the bill. Seats will be distributed free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis, said the source.
Only Ukrainians who have obtained a visa through the new Canada-Ukraine Emergency Travel Authorization (AVUCU) will be able to attempt to reserve a place. Eligible individuals will receive an email with information on how to register.
Once in Canada, free accommodation will be offered to Ukrainians who do not have a suitable place to stay for up to 14 days, said the official.
Liberal government facing criticism
In Ottawa, the opposition has been calling for the organization of evacuation flights for weeks and has been accusing the Trudeau government of dragging its feet.
Last week, Bloc Québécois MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe criticized Transport Minister Omar Alghabra for appearing to be “distraught in the face of the situation.”
Alghabra said the government has been faced with “logistical challenges.”
He pointed out that many Ukrainians are no longer where they were when they applied for their Canadian visa, which makes it more difficult to arrange air transport.
For the moment, it is difficult to know if these flights will be accessible for Ukrainians who are in European countries other than Poland, and if Ottawa will facilitate, if necessary, their transport to Warsaw to board planes chartered by Canada.
The province of Newfoundland and Labrador pre-empted the federal government by organizing its own evacuation flight from Poland. More than 160 Ukrainian refugees landed in St. John’s on Monday evening.
Between March 17 and May 4, Canada approved 91,500 Ukrainians and their relatives’ applications under AVUCU. A total of 204,000 applications were submitted to the Canadian government during the same period.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, nearly six million Ukrainians have fled their country since the Russian invasion on Feb. 24. Poland received the largest share: 3.2 million people.