More than 30,000 Afghan refugees have now arrived in Canada, the federal government says, surpassing a milestone in its program to bring thousands of Afghans here after the Taliban takeover – many, however, remain left behind.
The latest arrivals, about 300 on a flight from Pakistan, landed in Toronto Wednesday, according to a news release from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). They included those who supported Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan, family members of former Afghan interpreters, and privately sponsored refugees who are coming through a humanitarian program.
After the Taliban seized control of the country in August, 2021, the Liberal government announced its special resettlement program for Afghans who worked for Canada. Ottawa also established a humanitarian resettlement program for Afghans vulnerable to Taliban persecution, such as human-rights defenders and LGBTQ people. Ottawa has promised to bring at least 40,000 Afghans to Canada by the end of this year.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said in the news release that he is proud to mark a “significant milestone” by welcoming more than 30,000 vulnerable Afghans to their new home.
“This is an ambitious achievement as we work towards our goal of resettling at least 40,000 Afghans by the end of 2023,” he said.
But many Afghans remain stranded inside Afghanistan, or in neighbouring Pakistan, and have waited more than a year for a flight to Canada without having received any explanation for the delay.
The Globe and Mail went to Pakistan in November and spoke with dozens of Afghans who are waiting to come to Canada. Some, including families living in hotels run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), are still there.
A former interpreter whom The Globe met in a hotel in Islamabad nearly six months ago said recently by text message that he has now waited more than a year. The Globe is not identifying him because he fears for the safety of his relatives in Afghanistan.
When The Globe initially spoke with him in Pakistan, his children were running up and down the halls of a hotel, waving small Canadian flags and saying the word e-mail because all the adults around them were constantly checking for word from the federal Immigration Department.
He said the waiting is making his family depressed, saying his kids cry all the time. He said he is requesting IRCC to prioritize Afghans who worked for the Canadian Armed Forces because they were most at risk. He said he and other interpreters feel hopeless and urge Ottawa to help them and their kids, who have now missed nearly two years of school.
The interpreter and his family have completed the medical and biometric tests necessary for travel to Canada.
The Immigration Department has maintained that some cases are complex and so processing of those applications will take longer.
Mr. Fraser called the Afghanistan program one of the largest and most difficult resettlement efforts in Canada’s history, but said that the government is committed to “maximizing every opportunity to support these vulnerable Afghans in their transition to a better life in Canada.”
He said Wednesday’s milestone is a “testament to the incredible work of governments, stakeholders and NGOS, and underscores our belief that welcoming refugees is an integral part of who we are.”
The Immigration Department acknowledged that many Afghans continue to face great risks when attempting to leave Afghanistan, or can’t make the journey without assistance.
The challenge in helping people within the country, the government maintains, is that there is no Canadian diplomatic or military presence there and they are navigating an evolving situation in Afghanistan where movement is difficult and dangerous.
António Vitorino, the IOM’s director-general, said in the IRCC news release that the “safe and dignified resettlement of refugees globally has been a central part of IOM’s work for more than 70 years and we are proud to be part of Canada’s efforts to provide a new home for tens of thousands of vulnerable Afghans.”
He said the IOM continues to work with the Canadian government and other partners to ensure Afghan refugees are provided the opportunity to restart their lives in safety.