Canada is set to resettle 5,000 Afghan refugees as part of a U.S-led effort to help clear American and allied bases, where tens of thousands of people fleeing the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan have been housed since evacuation flights began in early August.
Two sources told The Globe and Mail that the Canadian government has agreed to take in refugees that the Americans airlifted to bases in the Middle East and Europe. Among the refugees that Canada intends to accept are Afghan women leaders, human rights advocates and LGBTQ people, the sources said.
Although these refugees have had their identities confirmed by the Americans, they still need to be screened by Canadian immigration officials and meet the criteria for Canada’s humanitarian resettlement program, the sources said. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the sources, because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
An estimated 100,000-plus refugees have been airlifted out of Afghanistan by the U.S., Canada and other allied nations since August 1, amid deteriorating security conditions as Taliban forces advanced across the country. Many of them are still at U.S. bases in countries such as Qatar, Kuwait, Spain and Germany. The U.S. is asking allies to either permanently take in these refugees, as Canada has said it will do, or temporarily house them until they can be processed for resettlement in America.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino will announce the resettlements Tuesday, as Canada and its allies ramp up pressure on the Taliban to reopen Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport to civilian flights. The hard-line Islamist group took control of the airport after the U.S. withdrew all its forces from Afghanistan Monday, a day earlier than expected.
The sources said the people that Washington has asked Canada to resettle will count toward the total of 21,000 Afghan refugees that Ottawa has already pledged to take in. Canada has provided special visas to 8,000 Afghans who worked for Canada as interpreters, fixers and support staff, as well as their families. The federal government has said the other 13,000 will come from refugee camps outside Afghanistan, mainly in Pakistan.
The Canadian Armed Forces has also offered to fly Afghan refugees from bases in the Middle East to Europe, the U.S. and other destinations, a senior government official said. The Globe is not identifying the official, who was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
Canada is one of more than a dozen countries that has agreed to the U.S. request to permanently take in refugees from Afghanistan. Other countries, such as Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Albania and Qatar, are committing to accept Afghans temporarily in small numbers.
“This operation was a global endeavour in many ways. Many countries stepped up with robust contributions to the airlift,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told an evening news conference. “Some are now serving as transit countries, allowing evacuees to be registered and processed on the way to their final destination. Others have agreed to resettle Afghan refugees permanently and we hope more will do so in the days and weeks ahead.”
Since Aug. 4, Canada has evacuated 3,200 vulnerable Afghan nationals on its flights, though it is unknown how many of them were bound for resettlement in Canada. Another 500, destined for Canada, were flown out by the U.S. late last week.
An estimated 4,300 Afghans who were accepted as refugees by Canada remain in Afghanistan. It is not known how many Canadian nationals were unable to leave the country before Canada ended its rescue flights out of Kabul on Thursday.
Many who missed the rescue flights fear Taliban violence. Some are hiding in safe houses and counting on the U.S. and its allies to negotiate their passage out of the country.
Western diplomats met in Doha on Monday with Taliban officials to discuss reopening Kabul’s airport to people wanting to leave the country.
Canadian diplomat David William Sproule spoke with a top-ranking Taliban official there, as part of talks between the Islamist group and representatives of G7 countries, NATO, Turkey and Qatar. A Taliban spokesperson tweeted that Sher Abbas Stanikzai, deputy head of the Taliban’s political office, and his delegation, met with Mr. Sproule for discussions that centred on “issues related to the airport.”
On Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau joined a virtual ministerial meeting on Afghanistan, hosted by the U.S. Secretary of State. It included France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Qatar, the European Union and NATO.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Monday that Western powers are pressing the Taliban to allow foreign citizens, as well as Afghans who worked for NATO countries, to leave Afghanistan on civilian aircraft.
“Once the American and allied troops leave Kabul … there will be a need for a civilian airport that is operating to ensure humanitarian flights.” Mr. Trudeau said. “That is why we, alongside many others, are putting pressure internationally on the Taliban to ensure that people are continuing to be able to leave Afghanistan if they have international travel documents.”
Canada and 97 countries, including the U.S., have said they are committed to taking in people fleeing Afghanistan, and that they are counting on assurances from the Taliban that those people will be able to leave on civilian flights.
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