Is Canada about to close the door on Afghans seeking to flee the Taliban?
Fears are growing that Canada will soon stop accepting applications from Afghans seeking to flee the Taliban and resettle there.
The federal government is believed to be closing in on its goal of inviting 40,000 Afghans to resettle here under a special immigration scheme, with advocates claiming they have been told all places would have to be filled with here this summer.
They implore the Liberal government to keep the door open as thousands of Afghans who served the Canadian mission and supported taxpayer-funded projects remain stranded in Afghanistan.
“They (have) basically run out of places. To our knowledge, there are no plans to renew or extend the program. Yet there are still thousands of very qualified people who haven’t heard anything,” says Lauryn Oates of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.
“At the last news (two months ago), there were 2,000 places left. These will be filled very quickly and, once these are over, there will be no more channels for special immigration measures for Afghans, in particular. The program will run smoothly.
In July, under enormous public pressure to respond to the emerging crisis in Afghanistan as the Taliban regained control of the country, Canada implemented special immigration measures, first for its local Afghan staff and those who had “significant and enduring relationships” in Afghanistan. support the Canadian mission.
A month later, it extended to vulnerable groups such as women’s rights activists, human rights defenders, journalists and persecuted minorities. In December, another route was opened up for extended family members of former Afghan interpreters who had previously resettled here.
In a joint statement this week, a coalition of organizations working to support Afghans said it was “deeply troubled” by Ottawa’s plans to conclude the special program for Afghans once its commitment is fulfilled.
“Such a move would put thousands of people at high risk of Taliban violence, including those who have worked to advance gender equality under Canada’s feminist international assistance policy,” the letter from the three states. pages.
“These same men and women live in fear precisely because their support for Canada’s mission in Afghanistan makes them targets of violent reprisals by the regime.
To date, nearly 16,000 refugees and vulnerable Afghans have arrived in the country, including some 7,000 who have assisted the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. The others belong to vulnerable groups, such as human rights defenders, journalists and persecuted minorities. Some 10,565 of the system’s 14,920 requests were approved. Supporters say they were told that thousands more invitations to the program had been issued, approaching the program’s 40,000-person cap.
Immigration officials say Canada’s commitment to Afghan refugees has not wavered.
Over the next few weeks, the Department of Immigration will issue additional invitations to apply to people referred by Global Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence, noted Aidan Strickland, spokesperson for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser.
“The Government of Canada has received hundreds of thousands of communications from people wishing to come to Canada since the fall of Kabul. Unfortunately, that’s a lot more than we can bring to Canada,” Strickland told The Star in an email.
“The sad reality is that not everyone who has expressed an interest in coming to Canada will be eligible for special programs for Afghanistan. … We are doing everything we can to help Afghans inside and outside Afghanistan.
Oates, whose group is among the letter’s signatories, said 17 of its local Afghan employees contacted immigration officials for the special program, some as early as July, but only five were invited and received a application form. The others heard nothing back.
“One of the criticisms that has been made is that people haven’t heard anything. So Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said, “We will respond to everyone and after those who are invited have been notified, the others will be notified that they will not be (invited),” Oates said.
Former Afghan refugee Sadiqa Basiri says her parents and two siblings received threats from the Taliban over her previous work building six girls’ schools, literary centers and Afghanistan’s first all-girls community college, which was supported by the Canadian government.
Since August, she has made numerous attempts to apply for the special immigration program on behalf of her family, but only received automated acknowledgments. There was no file number, no application form.
“I froze when I heard they were ending the program. My heart fell to my feet. I don’t have anyone else. My parents, my brother and my sister are my whole life. I am the reason for what is happening to them,” said Basiri, whose father was slapped and kicked by Taliban officials after finding a guitar in the house during a search in February.
“I know what Ukrainians are going through. Refugees have the right to be safe. I completely sympathize with that. But why the double standards for Afghans? Aren’t we humans? Is it because of our skin color?
Unlike the Afghan permanent resettlement, the federal government has not set a cap on the number of displaced Ukrainians allowed to arrive as visitors under the Canada-Ukraine Emergency Travel Clearance.
Last week, the parliamentary select committee on Afghanistan released its report criticizing the government’s slow response to the humanitarian crisis following the announcement of the withdrawal of US and allied forces from the country last year.
“While the exact moment at which Taliban ascendancy became inevitable could not have been predicted with certainty, the Special Committee believes that greater caution – and, therefore, a more proactive approach – was warranted in response. to Afghanistan’s clearly worsened trajectory,” the report said.
Immigration officials were asked by Global Affairs Canada to develop special immigration plans for local Afghan personnel more than three months before Kabul fell to the Taliban, according to government briefing notes obtained in as part of an access to information request.
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan, vice-chair of the committee, said the Department of National Defense had reviewed and returned 3,800 files of Afghans who served the Canadian mission, but the Immigration officials could only confirm 900. There were others forwarded by Global Affairs Canada who remain unresolved, she added.
“Canada promised to get them to safety and we broke that promise. So if the government ends this program now, it would be a colossal, colossal and shameful moment in the history of Canada to abandon these people,” Kwan said.
She also accused the government of “playing the monkey” with the Afghan resettlement quota.
“There are applicants who have been accepted and who have arrived in Canada safely, or people who had applied to come to Canada a few years ago. The government just saw it was convenient to fast-track these cases now and count them into the 40,000,” Kwan said.
“I’m not saying these people don’t deserve to get to safety. They should have been safe a few years ago and should not be part of this special immigration measure. The Liberals announced during the campaign that they would bring in 40,000 Afghans because of the current crisis. The reality is that they cheated.
The government should not shut down the initiative but expand it as long as needed to bring these people to safety, Kwan said.
“It is justifiable to expand the program and open up more places so that we can reach more people whose applications or requests were ignored for those who were not truly eligible but came anyway,” she said.
“It’s a way to make up for it.”
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