United Nations High Commissioner says next Canadian government must honor commitment to Afghan refugees

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi speaks at a press conference in Islamabad on September 17. Opinion polls suggest that only 14 percent of Canadians see immigration as a key issue.FAROOQ NAEEM / AFP / Getty Images

A senior United Nations official called on anyone who wins Canadian elections on Monday to honor commitments made by the ruling Liberals to resettle tens of thousands of Afghan refugees.

Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, welcomed Canada’s pledge to resettle up to 20,000 Afghan refugees and said he hoped the pledge would be implemented regardless of the outcome of the elections. .

“Whoever is Prime Minister after Monday, the message is pretty clear: that Canada continue to strongly support operations to help refugees around the world, one of our major donors. May Canada continue to have a generous resettlement program, including for Afghan refugees, ”said Mr. Grandi in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. “I hope that whatever government emerges from the election will keep this important promise.”

Immigration has not been a major topic in the election campaign so far. The Conservatives have said they support the Liberal plan to welcome vulnerable Afghans. NDP calls for broadening Liberal plan to put special focus on women and girls to include human rights activists and Afghans with family members in Canada – especially for those with family reunification requests are still awaiting treatment.

Opinion polls suggest that only 14 percent of Canadians see immigration as a key issue; health care, climate change and the economy are the main concerns.

However, the next government will be tasked with translating Afghanistan’s promises into concrete policies – and funding them. Under the Interim Convention, which requires the government “to limit itself to necessary public affairs” during an election campaign, statements made by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino and others from the start campaign are only treated as promises made by election candidates, not government statements.

Mr. Trudeau called the election on August 15, the same day the Taliban took control of Kabul.

The threat of Taliban retaliation sparked a panicked exodus of Afghans who had worked with NATO during its 20-year occupation of Afghanistan. The Canadian military evacuated approximately 3,700 Canadian citizens, along with former military translators and their families, via Kabul airport before the last US troops left on August 31. But thousands more have been left behind in the chaotic withdrawal.

In addition to Afghans who served in the Canadian military, vulnerable groups eligible for resettlement under special measures announced by Mr. Mendicino on August 14 include women, LGBTI people and persecuted minorities, as well as human rights defenders. humans and journalists.

A page on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada website indicates that as of September 12, applications covering 12,400 people have been received under the Vulnerable Afghan Resettlement Program and 8,200 have been approved. So far, 2,200 new Afghan refugees have arrived in Canada, and another 800 are currently under COVID-19 quarantine.

Grandi said the Canadian program was also an “important signal” for Pakistan, which UNHCR says is hosting around 1.4 million Afghan refugees after a succession of conflicts, including the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979 and a bloody civil war in the 1990s. While that number was once closer to four million – many Afghans have returned home during NATO’s two decades of military presence – the government Pakistanis have indicated they are unwilling to accommodate another massive influx now that the Taliban have returned to power.

The resettlement of Canada is not very large in numbers, but it is a very important signal for a country like Pakistan which has taken in millions of people. [of Afghan refugees] for 40 years – that at least there is some sharing of responsibilities, some sharing of the burden. Giving money is one thing, but also taking some refugees is important, ”said Grandi. “In recent years, we have been almost unable to resettle Afghan refugees from Pakistan. I hope there is now more situational awareness and that this burden will be shared more generously – and that Canada will lead by example, as it often does.

Grandi made his remarks after a three-day trip to Afghanistan in which he met with senior Taliban leaders, including the interim government’s foreign ministers, education, rural development and refugees.

Many Western countries – and Canada’s three biggest political parties – have said they will neither acknowledge nor send aid to the Taliban government, which is dominated by tough figures associated with the extremist group’s brutal regime in the years. 1990 and attacks on NATO forces. over the past 20 years. However, Grandi said it was essential that political considerations not hamper humanitarian aid.

“There is international recognition that Afghanistan cannot be left on its own, cannot be abandoned,” he said, as happened when the Taliban last ruled the country. and made it a safe haven for terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda. “There is a conscience this time that leaving him alone will be a disaster, first for the Afghans, but then for the neighbors – especially Pakistan – and then for the region and beyond.”

With a report from Steven Chase in Ottawa

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