Canada and the world need to do more to help the small number of female parliamentarians who remain trapped inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, says a Canadian senator.
The consequences of inaction are deadly, says Senator Salma Ataullahjan, who spoke after the killing of Mursal Nabizada, a former Afghan MP, in her home in Kabul this weekend. Ms. Nabizada had been hoping to get to safety in Canada, along with other women who had served in Afghan’s parliament.
“The sad part about this whole situation is that we could have taken these women to safety earlier,” Ms. Ataullahjan told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday. “We should have acted quickly. We knew they were in danger.”
Ms. Nabizada and her bodyguard were shot dead by unknown assailants, Kabul police said.
News of the murder also galvanized an all-party group of MPs to urge Ottawa to take swift action.
Eight other women who were members of the legislature before the Taliban took over are still in Afghanistan and need Canada’s help, the group said. It has been working behind the scenes since October to press Ottawa to bring these women to Canada. Ms. Nabizada’s murder has added new force to their goal.
Ottawa has “a moral responsibility to help them now,” the six MPs said in a joint statement this week, raising the federal government’s past involvement in encouraging and mentoring women parliamentarians in Afghanistan.
“We urge the Canadian government to act on this matter urgently and take immediate action to assist in getting these women to safety.”
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The situation in Afghanistan is growing more dangerous by the day, with the Taliban’s gender apartheid system controlling every aspect of life for women and girls, the statement said.
“No female is safe. But this is particularly so for these brave women MPs who led the way in opening up public and civic space for women and girls under the previous Afghan government.”
The group includes Bloc Québécois MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe; Green Party co-leader Elizabeth May; NDP MP Heather McPherson; Conservative MP Alex Ruff; and Liberal MPs Marcus Powlowski and Leah Taylor Roy.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference in Windsor on Tuesday that Ottawa has stepped up significantly over the past decades. He raised his government’s promise to bring 40,000 Afghans to Canada, saying it’s one of the highest targets among Canada’s allies.
“We know there’s more to do and we’re going to continue working to make sure that the most vulnerable people are able to get out. At the same time, we have to recognize the Taliban is not allowing people to leave, is putting people at risk. So our ability to do that is extremely limited but we’re going to continue to be there for the Afghan people.”
Mr. Trudeau did not mention Ms. Nabizada’s death nor the other women parliamentarians who remain in Afghanistan.
Ottawa promised in July, 2021, to bring at least 40,000 Afghans to Canada. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 27,345 have arrived since August, 2021. Of these, 15,230 came under the government’s humanitarian program and 9,500 under the special immigration program for people who assisted the federal government’s missions in Afghanistan.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly’s offices issued a joint statement condemning the murder of Ms. Nabizada, saying she bravely fought for the rights of women and girls, and that the perpetrators must be brought to justice.
“We’ll continue to do everything we can to welcome Afghans safely and quickly. This includes working with members of Parliament from all parties to advance our nation’s efforts, and specifically, bring more women leaders to Canada.”
The ministers’ statement said Ms. Nabizada “will continue to be an inspiration” but stopped short of offering specific help for her compatriots.
Mr. Powlowski, a Liberal MP who is part of the all-party group, called Ms. Nabizada’s death “awful.” He said he would like to see the government’s existing refugee programs for those who worked for the federal government as well as the humanitarian resettlement program expanded to include more people.
“There continues to be a large number of people who worked with our forces in various capacities who didn’t make it out,” he said, adding that some of them “are particularly at high risk.”
Meanwhile, as thousands of Afghans remain left behind, Global Affairs Canada plans to install a plaque at its Ottawa headquarters commemorating Canada’s evacuation of Afghans and embassy staff following the Taliban takeover.
According to a memorandum obtained by The Canadian Press through an access-to-information request, the plaque cost $10,000. It says: “This plaque pays tribute to all the government of Canada employees who contributed to this heroic effort.”
With a report from The Canadian Press and Associated Press