Afghan refugees: Trudeau government urged to do more, faster

Afghan refugees: Trudeau government urged to do more, faster

Afghan refugees arrive at Toronto Pearson Airport on August 24, 2021.

A year after the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, voices are rising to urge the Canadian government to step up to full speed in welcoming Afghan refugees, as ;Ottawa is lagging behind on the targets it has set.

Just over 17,300 Afghans have arrived in Canada since last August out of the 40 000 that Justin Trudeau's government has promised to resettle.

Aman Lara, a nonprofit helping Afghans find refuge in Canada, estimates that there are around 8,000 Afghans who have been granted permission to travel to the country through a special immigration program for people who have helped the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) or who have worked for the Canadian Embassy in Afghanistan. However, those Afghans with travel approval are unable to travel, the NGO said.

The organization's chief executive, Brian Macdonald, said in an interview that another 3,000 Afghans who collaborated with Canada are still waiting for a response from Ottawa.

A former Afghan interpreter with the CAF said he was in that situation Monday during a news conference with NDP MPs urging Ottawa to do more to respond to the crisis. The latter, whose identity is protected so as not to compromise his safety, underlined the urgency of the situation. It is a matter of life and death, he said adding that the Taliban have issued an arrest warrant for him.

He said he submitted his case to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) a year ago and only received an automated email response since.

“With each passing day, the danger and chances of being pursued by the Taliban escalate.

— Jenny Kwan, NDP Immigration Critic

She urged the Liberals to extend and expand their special program, for which a threshold of 18,000 Afghans has been set. This cap is arbitrary and must be lifted, Kwan said.

“We call on the Government of Canada to maintain the #x27;special immigration open, without limits […], until everyone who has helped Canada can save themselves.

—Brian Macdonald, CEO of the Aman Lara Organization

The Conservatives also want this program to be extended. Their immigration critic, Jasraj Singh Hallan, accused the Liberals of leaving Afghans hanging.

This government has ignored expert warnings about the need for an evacuation plan and it continues to fail to deliver on its commitments to our partners in Afghanistan. Afghans who have served alongside our country deserve better, he argued in a written statement.

Bloquiste Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe is also calling on the Trudeau government to to do more. In particular, he believes that freeing Afghan refugees from the requirement to provide biometric data would help their files move faster.

It could be done when these people arrive in Canada […], but the government persists in refusing this request, which is made by several NGOs and by the opposition in Parliament.

An Afghan woman holds her child in her arms as she and others wait to receive parcels distributed by a group of humanitarian aid at a distribution center in Kabul, Afghanistan.

These calls to step up the pace come as aid agencies working in Afghanistan are sounding the alarm that the country is going through a severe humanitarian crisis, with 18.9 million people facing acute hunger.

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A group of 15 organizations, including the Red Cross and World Vision, recently launched a campaign to ask Canada to provide exemptions to its sanctions against the Taliban, since these prevent them from transporting it. ;aid on the ground.

[These] sanctions, in addition to anti-terrorism provisions, mean that our agencies could be prosecuted under the Canadian Criminal Code, summarized Reyhana Patel, head of public relations for the NGO Islamic Relief Canada.

The Special Committee on Afghanistan of the House of Commons recommended, in a report presented in June, that exemptions be decreed.

Appearing before this committee in May, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly, acknowledged that there is certainly a problem with the way in which the Criminal Code is interpreted, because it limits the humanitarian aid that can be offered by Canada in Afghanistan.

MP Brunelle-Duceppe regrets that no exemption has yet been granted. We are talking about human lives and, for a comma in a Criminal Code, we make sure that these people suffer and perhaps will not make it out alive. Not only is this unfortunate and absurd, but it is unacceptable.

Of the 17,335 refugees who have arrived in Canada over the past year, 7,300 have been received under the special program for former interpreters and other Afghans who worked with Ottawa in Afghanistan.

The program has almost reached its limit of 18,000 people, as more than 15,000 applications have been received and the office of Immigration Minister Sean Fraser says referrals for the remaining places have been collected.

Meanwhile, nearly 72,000 Ukrainians entered the country in 2022 alone, according to government statistics.

Vincent Hughes, wears spokesperson for Minister Fraser, argued that the Afghan and Ukrainian immigration programs are very different.

Helping to get people out of Afghanistan is very difficult, he argued, because Canada has no diplomatic presence there and does not recognize the Taliban government. Our commitment to bring at least 40,000 vulnerable Afghans to Canada remains, and it is one of the largest programs in the world, he said.

La Afghanistan's situation is unique, as we face challenges that have not been present in other large-scale resettlement initiatives, he added.

In terms of private sponsorship of Afghan refugees, the director of Actions Réfugiés Montréal, Paul Clarke, has the impression that the processing of applications from Afghanistan by Ottawa has accelerated over the past year. an.

It feels like our Afghan files have been pushed to the top of the pile, he said.

However, he believes that organizations like his have their hands tied to do more because of the maximum number of sponsorship files that can be submitted to Quebec each year.

According to him, the Ministry of Immigration, Francisation and Integration must raise its thresholds in this area. Questioned on this point, the office of the Quebec Minister of Immigration, Jean Boulet, did not directly answer the question.

Ottawa has once again demonstrated in this file its inability to manage a large amount of files and [only] admitted 17,000 [Afghan refugees]. It goes without saying that the more the federal government accepts, the greater the number of Afghan nationals who will be destined for Quebec, said the minister in a written statement provided by his team.

In addition, Mr. Boulet noted that it seems that a significant proportion of Afghan refugees who have arrived to date have preferred to remain in the greater Toronto area where family members or relatives have already settled. .

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