Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Hundreds of people gather near a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane along the perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, in August, 2021.Shekib Rahmani/The Associated Press

The federal government is nearing its cap for relocating Afghans and their families to Canada through a special immigration program for those who worked with Canada’s military or government in Afghanistan.

But advocates say there are Afghans who aided Canada’s missions still desperate to leave the country since the Taliban takeover last August. They say that reports that the special immigration program is full are creating anxiety among those still waiting to hear if they will be allowed to apply. These Afghans remain in grave danger of being targeted by the Taliban for their co-operation with Canada.

Ottawa still has around 3,000 slots to formally allocate, but it already has referrals from Global Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence to fill them. A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser would not say whether the government has received additional referrals beyond the special program’s 18,000-person scope.

Opposition politicians and advocates are arguing that there should be no specific limit to the program.

“We should not be putting a cap on the number of people who served Canada – and their extended family members. They deserve to come to Canada,” said Jenny Kwan, an NDP MP and critic for immigration, refugees and citizenship. “They’re in a situation where they’re being hunted down by the Taliban – and this is happening right now as we speak. We can’t just turn a blind eye and say, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t help you.’”

Ottawa allowing thousands of Afghans entry to Canada through Pakistan, which has relaxed border restrictions

Afghan lawyer asks Ottawa to prioritize resettlement of colleagues who served embassy in Kabul

Ms. Kwan called the 18,000-person quota “entirely arbitrary” and said she does not believe that the Liberal government came up it in a methodical way, noting that the government has not specified how it determined the number.

After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, 2021, the Liberal government promised it would admit 40,000 Afghans to Canada. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, as of last week, 16,645 Afghans have been admitted to Canada since last August. This includes 7,205 through the special immigration measures program, which was announced a year ago.

Of the 18,000 slots, more than 15,000 applications have been received and are in various stages of processing, said Aidan Strickland, the press secretary for Mr. Fraser, in an e-mail. She said that IRCC has received referrals for the remaining slots, but said formal invitations to apply are still being sent out for those.

Ms. Strickland did not answer a question about why the program was capped at 18,000 – or whether an expansion is being considered. She also did not respond to a question about whether IRCC has already received referrals that it will not be able to process within the 18,000-person quota, and if so, how many.

She said that the government “has not closed” the program.

Brian Macdonald, a military veteran and the executive director of Aman Lara, a veterans’ group that has evacuated Afghans who worked with Canada, said that while there have been some difficulties with the special immigration measures program, it has been very successful for getting people out. He said that Aman Lara has been able to move more than 3,000 people to safety, almost all through that program.

“We would like the government to leave the [special immigration measures] program open as long as it takes to make sure that everybody that’s eligible can come to Canada,” he said. “We don’t think there should be a cap on it – or a time limit.”

He said that many people have started the process, but haven’t yet received an invitation to apply from IRCC and don’t know if they are going to get one.

Lauryn Oates, the executive director of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, said that all of the organization’s employees in Afghanistan indicated their interest in the special immigration program almost as soon as it was announced. Five were invited to apply, and 17 have not heard anything back from IRCC. She said there was no discernible reason why the five were invited, four of whom are now in Canada, and the others were not.

“They say the program is still open, but what they mean by that is they’re still doing the paperwork for the other people – the 15,000,” she said. “As far as we’re concerned, the program’s closed when you’re not taking more people.”

The staff members who have yet to hear back from IRCC are hoping that they are one of the 3,000 or so who have yet to be invited to apply, said Ms. Oates, adding that the stress of not knowing has had a huge psychological effect on those still waiting.

Jasraj Singh Hallan, a Conservative MP and critic for immigration, refugees and citizenship, said that there has been “no transparency” from the Immigration Minister’s office on this issue. He also questioned the 18,000-person cap, saying, “Why specifically that number, when it’s possible that it could go way over that?”

Last month, the House of Commons Special Committee on Afghanistan released a report that made 37 recommendations, including that IRCC do whatever is necessary to ensure that applications under the special immigration measures program are being processed immediately.

With files from Janice Dickson and Michelle Carbert

For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe