A 24-year-old Afghan man who was urgently seeking refugee protection from Canada was shot dead by the Taliban over the weekend, raising further concerns about the fate of other vulnerable Afghans trapped in the country.
Yama Naseemi was shot in the forehead outside of his Kabul home Saturday, according to an advocacy group leading an evacuation effort for some of the most vulnerable Afghans. Operation Abraham, as the group is known, has provided the Liberal government with a list of approximately 95 Afghans who need immediate protection, including Mr. Naseemi and his family members.
“We have been working very, very hard to get them out of Afghanistan and get them to Canada. So it was heartbreaking to hear this news,” said Farouq Samim, an Ottawa doctor who works with Operation Abraham.
Mr. Samim said Mr. Naseemi, who was studying computer science at Kabul University, was killed about 12 hours after he submitted online visa applications to the Pakistani embassy on behalf of his family members.
The plan, Mr. Samim said, was to get the family into Pakistan, where they could seek safety while Operation Abraham continues to work with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to process their Canadian visa requests.
Operation Abraham added Mr. Naseemi to its list of urgent cases last October after the Afghan embassy in Canada asked the group to help the family.
“He [Mr. Naseemi] was very happy that we would get him out of danger and his family to Canada,” said a tearful Mr. Samim, an Afghan who himself received refugee protection in Canada in 2011.
Mr. Naseemi’s killing is not the first conflict-related tragedy for his family. His older brother was killed during the Afghan civil war. Mr. Samim said their mother is “devastated” after losing a second son.
Operation Abraham is associated with Montreal’s Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, which was founded by human-rights lawyer and former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler.
“We’ve felt from the beginning that this was a priority to facilitate their rescue, relief and resettlement in Canada as quickly as possible,” said Mr. Cotler of Operation Abraham.
The federal government has promised refuge to 40,000 Afghans – a target Ottawa said in 2021 would take two years to reach. So far, 13,050 have arrived.
Canada has set up three programs to help resettle Afghan refugees. Former Afghan interpreters and staff who worked for Canada’s military and diplomatic mission can apply for special immigration visas. Other vulnerable Afghans, such as female judges, feminists, human-rights defenders and LGBTQ2 members, can apply under a special humanitarian program. Ottawa has also promised a pathway to permanent residency for family members of former interpreters.
The government’s seemingly slow response to its resettlement commitments has been met with heavy criticism from Afghan refugee advocates and the opposition, who blame Ottawa’s overrun immigration system and bureaucratic red tape for delaying resettlement.
Meanwhile, the lives of some Afghans are under increasing threat as the days, weeks and months pass with little to no updates about their cases from IRCC. Last week, The Globe reported that Afghans who aided Canada’s military and diplomatic mission in Afghanistan have been tortured by the Taliban while awaiting the necessary documents to settle in this country.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser have repeatedly attributed the resettlement challenges to the closing of the Canadian embassy in Kabul and the fact that the Taliban are now in power. In a statement Sunday, Mr. Fraser’s spokesperson, Aidan Strickland, reiterated that those obstacles still exist, but did not comment directly on Mr. Naseemi’s case, citing privacy.
“Canada strongly condemns the senseless acts of violence committed by the Taliban,” said Ms. Strickland. “We are doing everything we can to help Afghans, including working with partners in the region, state entities, international organizations and non-profit organizations to identify a path forward to secure safe passage for those still in Afghanistan.”
But for Operation Abraham, which says it is in constant contact with government officials about the Afghan resettlement effort, Ottawa’s justifications have gone on for too long. Despite hitting continuous roadblocks, Mr. Samim said the group will not rest until Canada lives up to its promise to resettle Afghanistan’s most vulnerable – especially those who supported Canadians during the war.
“They should get rid of all of the bureaucracy. They should loosen that up and bring these people in danger to Canada as soon as possible,” said Mr. Samim.
“Otherwise, do they want us to report more of our members of the group murdered and killed before they make a decision?”
Last month, the Veterans Transition Network, which says it has raised $3.6-million and helped rescue 2,061 Afghans since August, gave up its efforts, citing staff burnout and government red tape. But other groups are continuing that work, including Journalists for Human Rights and Aman Lara, an organization made up of veterans, former interpreters and volunteers.
Retired major-general David Fraser, who commanded troops in Afghanistan, is volunteering with Aman Lara. He said Canada could offer Afghans single-use travel documents, which would give them a form of documentation that would replace a passport, to get out of Afghanistan.
“If the politicians want this to happen, they will create the conditions and the motivation for the bureaucrats to work faster,” he said.
However, Ms. Strickland has previously said single-use travel documents would not solve the issue of safe passage out of Afghanistan, as third countries determine whether foreigners need a passport and visa to enter.
David Fraser said that argument is weak, as Canada is fully capable of working with the Pakistanis to discuss a temporary change to entry rules for Afghans who are only entering Pakistan as a means to get to Canada.