Canada has announced new measures to help those affected by the earthquakes Turkey and Syria.

On Saturday, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced at a press conference in Mississauga, Ont., that Turkish and Syrian temporary residents in Canada can apply to extend their status free of charge, starting March 29. They can also apply for an open work permit that will allow them to stay in Canada for up to three years.

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Canada will also waive the need to have a passport or travel document to be approved for permanent residency, given that some of those affected may have lost the documents. Fraser also said the fees for temporary passports and emergency travel documents will be waived for those returning to Canada, as well as for Canadian citizenship certificates and travel documents for permanent residents.

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“Today we are introducing new measures that will make it easier for Turkish and Syrian nationals to extend their stay in Canada and be with their families, while continuing to work and study in a safe environment,” Fraser said in a statement.

Canada has processed applications for permanent and temporary residency from those affected by the earthquakes on a priority basis. As of February 8, nearly 16,000 applications from Syria and Turkey were pending, of which 1,700 (750 permanent, 920 temporary residents) involved people from the affected areas, according to the government.

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Turkey and Syria lag a month after earthquakes

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“For those applying for a temporary resident visa, we will be able to process their applications with priority processing,” Fraser said at the news conference.

“(There are) specific measures that we implement, internally in our system, to provide guidance to our officials to facilitate the approval of their cases so that they can come to Canada.”

Fraser said the government has learned from its efforts to accept people fleeing Ukraine after the Russian invasion of their country last year. The government offered temporary shelter to large numbers of people from Ukraine much faster than it could through regular refugee resettlement programs, he said.

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“We are using a new strategy to facilitate the arrival of people who are in those situations (who) are not usually approved to come to Canada,” he said.

“The specific mechanism we are using involves the use of advanced analytics within the IRCC system to identify people who have been affected by the earthquake and to make a positive eligibility decision for an entire group of applicants at once.”

More than 50,000 have been killed and millions displaced from the February 6 magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck the region, as well as from its powerful aftershocks.

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As of March 10, about 600 Syrians and 6,400 Turkish residents in Canada had temporary status, which the government says will expire within six months.

On February 24, $50 million was announced by the federal government to support the earthquake response.

— With files from the Canadian Press

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