Opposition MPs and non-profit groups urge Ottawa to step up efforts to help stranded Afghans

Taliban fighters celebrate one year since they captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, outside the United States Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 15.Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

One year after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, Opposition MPs and non-profit groups are urging the Liberal government to do more to help thousands of vulnerable Afghans who remain trapped in the country, even after being promised refuge in Canada.

On Monday, both Conservatives and New Democrats criticized the government’s handling of the evacuation of Afghans. In a joint statement, Conservative Immigration Critic Jasraj Hallan and Conservative Public Services and Procurement Critic Pierre Paul-Hus said the government “has a moral obligation to everything he can to bring these families to safety.”

In the days following the Taliban takeover, governments around the world rushed to evacuate their own citizens, as well as Afghans who had aided each country’s diplomatic or military mission in Afghanistan.

The Canadian government has committed to bringing 40,000 Afghans to Canada. At first, he promised sanctuary to those who had worked alongside Canadian troops or at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul. He later pledged to bring in Afghans who would be particularly vulnerable to harm under fundamentalist Taliban rule, such as women’s rights activists and gay or transgender people.

But a year later, many of those who believe they fall into one of these categories have repeatedly contacted Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to no avail. Afghans who previously worked for Canada told The Globe and Mail they felt completely abandoned. And they are increasingly worried about what will happen to them if Canada denies them resettlement.

In Afghanistan, a year forward, a quarter century back

Part of their concern is that Canada’s resettlement program places caps on the number of Afghans who will be admitted in each category. After announcing the figure of 40,000 in July, the government clarified that there would be 18,000 places for Afghans helping the Canadian government, as well as their family members. 17,000 additional places would be available for vulnerable Afghans through a humanitarian component, and 5,000 places would be reserved for extended family members of Afghans who had already resettled in Canada after working as interpreters for the Canadian Armed Forces.

On Monday, NDP MP Jenny Kwan accused the government of picking numbers haphazardly.

“The government has set an arbitrary quota of 18,000 for those who have helped Canada. The quota is filling up fast, yet many Afghans who have served Canada are being left behind,” she told a news conference. She called for the removal of the quota.

Ms Kwan said the government should reveal how it settled on that number. “Do they even know how many people served and how many family members there are?” she says. And she wondered if the quota was high enough to accommodate all the Afghans who worked at the Canadian embassy in Kabul, including former security guards, cleaners and contractors.

So far, more than 17,000 Afghans have arrived in Canada – 7,300 under the special program for those who have helped the Canadian government and 10,045 under the humanitarian program, according to IRCC data.

Vincent Hughes, spokesman for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, said resettlement applications for more than 15,000 Afghans are in various stages of being processed.

The Department of National Defense and Global Affairs Canada have referred Afghans for the remaining spots, but IRCC has yet to send them invitations to apply, meaning some who may ultimately be approved for resettlement have not. yet submitted their documents.

“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,” Mr. Hughes said.

Not-for-profit organizations have led efforts to bring vulnerable Afghans to Canada through the government’s humanitarian arm. But some of these groups say there have been challenges.

Dane Bland, director of development at Rainbow Railroad, an organization that helps LGBTQ refugees escape persecution around the world, said his organization has helped bring about 150 Afghans to Canada so far. But, he added, he has heard from thousands of others who need help.

Rainbow Railroad has urged the government to make the organization what is called a “direct referral partner”. This would give Rainbow Railroad the ability to refer vulnerable refugees to the government for resettlement in Canada.

Since Rainbow Railroad is not a direct referral partner, Bland said, the organization had to rely on the United States to refer refugees to Canada on its behalf. He described the process as convoluted.

“We have not directly resettled individuals to Canada at this time without external government support,” he said.

Rachel Pulfer, executive director of Journalists for Human Rights, said her organization helped evacuate about 400 journalists from Afghanistan, 171 of whom came to Canada.

She said 74 Afghan journalists who fled Pakistan is ready to make the trip to Canada, but was unable to leave due to exit permit issues. She said she hoped these issues would be resolved soon.

“The government has made big, big promises that are extremely difficult to keep. We tried to find a solution, and it was difficult for everyone involved,” she said, adding that it is important to note that officials have also been working around the clock on this issue.

She said she would like the government to formally recognize the work of non-profit organizations in arranging safe passage out of Afghanistan, as well as providing support to Afghans in third countries like Pakistan and offering support administrative.

“Just acknowledging that there is this NGO referral network and resourcing it, I think, is the way to go,” she said.

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