Afghans who worked for the Canadian government in Afghanistan are still waiting for federal immigration authorities to contact them, a month after Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said those who are seeking resettlement in Canada would hear from his department within weeks.
One of the would-be refugees is Mohammad Salim Saberi, a former security guard for Canada’s embassy in Kabul. He said he is feeling increasingly disheartened.
Usman, the son of a different embassy security guard, is also trying to bring his family to Canada. He said he feels imprisoned in his own home, too fearful of the country’s fundamentalist Taliban rulers to go outside.
Another Afghan, whose father worked as a security officer alongside the Canadian Armed Forces, said he has been e-mailing Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) since this past August and has heard nothing. The Globe and Mail is not naming the Afghan, and is not using Usman’s surname, because both men fear retaliation from the Taliban.
Thousands of other Afghans now find themselves in similar situations. Having worked – or had close family members who worked – for Canada before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year, their pleas to Ottawa for help have since been ignored.
This past July, Canada announced a special resettlement program for Afghans who had helped with Canada’s military and diplomatic missions in Afghanistan, many of whom now face reprisals from the Taliban for co-operating with foreign governments. Mr. Fraser made his comments about the weeks-long time frame for responses at a parliamentary committee last month, when he said he expected everyone who has put their names forward for the resettlement program – or who has reached out and will not be accepted – would receive an answer.
For Maureen Silcoff, an immigration and refugee lawyer in Toronto who is representing Usman’s family, the lack of feedback from the government has been galling. “It’s absolutely unfathomable that we’re sitting here in June with people still not having had any response aside from an auto-reply,” she said.
Like her client, she has not been able to reach anyone in the minister’s office. Meanwhile, she said, people waiting for responses from Ottawa are living in dire circumstances.
“There’s still a responsibility on the part of the government to follow through with people who have worked with the Canadian government and bring them here on an urgent basis,” she said.
The federal government promised to admit 40,000 Afghans to Canada after the Taliban takeover. On Friday, IRCC said 15,475 Afghans had arrived since August. More than half of them – 8,490 – arrived under a humanitarian program that resettles vulnerable Afghans who did not work for Canada, such as human-rights defenders and women leaders. Another 6,985 Afghans have been resettled through the program for people who worked for Canada. The federal government says 14,920 Afghans have applied to the program for former workers, and that 10,565 applications have been approved.
But many Afghans who have reached out to the government about the program have not been invited to apply.
“Since the fall of Kabul, IRCC has received over a million communications from those who have expressed interest in coming to Canada, including under the Special Immigration Measures,” Aidan Strickland, a spokesperson for Mr. Fraser, said in a statement. “Regrettably, this is a far larger number than we can bring to Canada. In the coming weeks, more clarity will be offered both to those who are newly eligible for the program, and to those who have expressed interest but who do not qualify at this time.”
Saeeq Shajjan, a founder and managing partner of the Kabul-based law firm Shajjan & Associates, arrived in Canada last September – but 28 of his former colleagues were unable to escape Afghanistan. Speaking to the House of Commons immigration committee this past week, he said his firm was hired by the Canadian embassy and Global Affairs Canada, and that as a result his colleagues should qualify for resettlement under the special program for former workers. He said his former co-workers have not heard anything from IRCC.
The opposition parties expressed frustration with the government’s slow response to its Afghan resettlement commitments during this past week’s meeting. NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said some Afghan cases referred to IRCC by Global Affairs Canada and National Defence seem to be lost in bureaucracy.
Conservative immigration critic Jasraj Singh Hallan reiterated a call for Canada to provide those trapped in Afghanistan with single-use travel documents, which could allow them to escape to nearby countries, such as Pakistan, and undergo the biometric verification required for entry to Canada. But the government has said such documents would not necessarily allow Afghans to pass safely out of Afghanistan, because neighbouring countries may require refugees to have passports and visas to enter.
Ms. Strickland said Afghans who are not invited to apply to Canada’s special resettlement programs are encouraged to apply through other immigration streams. Doing so wouldn’t necessarily shorten their wait times; IRCC had a backlog of more than 2.2 million immigration applications as of May 24.
The government’s online processing time calculator says it does not have enough data to provide a reliable estimate for regular Afghan refugee applications. Wait times for some other immigration categories are years long.
The House of Commons special committee on Afghanistan released a report this past week that made 37 recommendations, including that IRCC dedicate more staff and hire new staff to process applications for Canada’s special programs for Afghans. It also recommended that IRCC do whatever is necessary to ensure that applications under the special program for former workers are being processed immediately.
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