Immigration Minister Sean Fraser predicts that it could take two years to fulfill the government’s promise to bring 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada.
The minister said the government is facing challenges in Afghanistan and other countries where refugees have fled but insisted it is urgently trying to get them to Canada.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Fraser said the two-year timeline is an estimate and that hundreds of Afghan refugees are arriving in Canada weekly.
“To the extent that we have the ability to move anybody faster than what’s predicted now, we’re going to do it as quickly as humanly possible,” Fraser said.
But he said checks, including security screening, were needed to “protect the integrity of the process of getting people here safely.”
The NDP criticized the bureaucracy imposed on desperate Afghans, with leader Jagmeet Singh telling a news conference that making Afghans fleeing the Taliban fill out an online form during a time of crisis was not the right response.
Jenny Kwan, the NDP’s immigration critic, said there is no guarantee that Afghans in hiding from the Taliban – including women and children, human-rights activists, and interpreters who helped the Canadian military – would still be alive in two years.
“We need to cut the red tape. People’s lives are at risk right now. People’s lives hang in the balance. They may not be standing in two year’s time,” she said.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole tabled a motion in the Commons calling for the establishment of a special committee to review events leading up to the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.
MPs voted Wednesday to establish the committee, which will also look at efforts to evacuate Canadian citizens stuck in Afghanistan as well as interpreters who helped the Armed Forces and other Canadian organizations.
But the Conservative motion was amended by the Bloc Quebecois which said the committee’s primary objective should be to look at humanitarian assistance to help assist the Afghan people.
It also placed restrictions on documents to be released to the committee and said some, for example those that might compromise national security, could be redacted.
O’Toole issued a statement following the vote accusing the Liberals, who supported the Bloc version of the motion, of trying to “cover up failures” before the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan.
“Today, Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government voted to cover up documents that would tell the full story of their failure to act in the years and months leading up to the fall of Afghanistan,” he said.
“Despite their best efforts to orchestrate another cover-up, Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government will now have to explain why they failed to act. Canadians deserve answers about what could have been done in the years and months before this crisis peaked this summer, and what should be done now to make up for lost time.”
Kwan said her party backed the creation of a special committee but wanted to see regular reports on government efforts to get Afghan refugees safely to Canada.
The Canadian government should do all it can to get vulnerable Afghans to Canada and sort out the paperwork once they are safe, she said.
She said she had spoken to Afghans whose loved ones are being targeted by the Taliban. Some have been beaten and physically assaulted, but can’t find a way out of the country so they can get to Canada.
“They are moving from place to place, in hiding,” Kwan said.
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