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Afghan refugees who supported Canada’s mission in Afghanistan prepare to board buses after arriving in Canada, at Toronto Pearson International Airport, Aug. 24, 2021.MCpl Genevieve Lapointe/Reuters

Members of Parliament agreed Wednesday to create a special committee to review the Liberal government’s efforts to evacuate Canadian citizens and Afghans after Kabul fell to the Taliban in August.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said earlier in the day that it will take up to two years to bring in the 40,000 Afghan refugees the government promised to resettle in Canada.

After the vote in the House of Commons, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said that the government will have to explain why it “failed to act” in Afghanistan. The Liberals voted against the Conservative motion proposing the creation of the special committee, which passed with amendments from the Bloc Québécois.

“Canadians deserve answers about what could have been done in the years and months before this crisis peaked this summer, and what should be done now to make up for lost time,” Mr. O’Toole said in a statement.

The committee will invite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, ministers and senior officials to appear as witnesses. It will hold televised meetings and seek documents and e-mails relating to evacuation planning from federal departments.

During Tuesday’s debate on the motion, Rob Oliphant, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, suggested studying the issue within the existing House of Commons standing committee on foreign affairs.

Government handling of Kabul evacuation under spotlight after Conservative motion

Afghanistan’s ambassador remains in Ottawa with no government to report to

The government promised months ago that it would resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees, many of whom could not escape the country before the Taliban returned to power. They have since found themselves in dire situations inside Afghanistan and in neighbouring countries, waiting for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to approve their applications. So far, just more than 4,000 Afghan refugees have arrived and more than 9,500 people inside Afghanistan are approved and waiting to come to Canada.

Mr. Fraser told reporters that the two-year prediction is “an estimate of the timelines we’re dealing with.”

“I want to be clear that when we talk about a timeline of that length, there are people who are here now and people that are arriving on a regular basis. I expect that’s going to continue in the weeks and months ahead so I don’t want to suggest for a moment that no one will get here on that timeline,” he said.

Mr. Fraser said there are a number of reasons why it’s challenging to quickly bring 40,000 people from Afghanistan to Canada. He cited helping Afghans in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and the referral capacity of partners in third countries.

In the meantime, Afghans still waiting to leave the country are growing desperate and say the Canadian government has abandoned them. Many worked alongside the Canadian military or with the embassy in Afghanistan, or they are relatives of those who did. They are terrified of Taliban reprisals. And their calls for help come as the country plunges into economic freefall, with half of its population facing hunger. Those waiting in neighbouring countries are safe, but are anxious as their savings run low.

Mr. Fraser said getting all the refugees to Canada “isn’t going to be easy but we are going to make good on our commitment no matter what it takes.”

Conservative immigration critic Jasraj Singh Hallan, said the vague timeline given by the government is unacceptable.

“It’s time for this government to step up and provide urgent action. Afghans are running out of time,” he said.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said people in Afghanistan do not have two years to wait.

“Afghans are in a dire situation and urgent action is required,” she said. “Some may not even have two days, two weeks or two months, let alone two years.”

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