Opposition members of Parliament say they have heard heartbreaking stories from people trapped in Afghanistan and are urging the Liberal government to swiftly help those who have been left behind.
MPs will be in the House of Commons on Monday for the first time since the September election. The last time MPs met in Parliament was in June. As politicians return, they say they will use the parliamentary tools at their disposal to press the government to work to resettle Afghan nationals who were promised they would be brought to Canada.
Months ago, the Liberal government announced immigration measures aimed at resettling tens of thousands of Afghan nationals who couldn’t escape the country before the Taliban’s return to power in August. Now, many have found themselves in desperate situations inside Afghanistan and in neighbouring countries, as they wait for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or IRCC, to approve their applications.
NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson said she has reached out to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser because she is hearing “unbelievable heartbreaking stories of how we have abandoned people in Afghanistan.”
“So we have already started, but I will say once the House sits, we’ll be using every tool in our arsenal as parliamentarians to get the government to act with the urgency this issue requires,” said Ms. McPherson.
In July, Marco Mendicino, who at the time was immigration minister, announced that Ottawa would resettle thousands of Afghans who had worked alongside Canadian troops and diplomatic staff, through a special immigration program. In August, despite failing to evacuate all the eligible Afghans in that group, the government said it would welcome 20,000 vulnerable Afghan refugees, such as human rights advocates, journalists and LGBTQ individuals. Ottawa doubled its resettlement target at the end of September, vowing to bring in 40,000 Afghan refugees from high-risk groups. According to government statistics, fewer than 4,000 Afghans have arrived.
Ms. McPherson said that if parliamentary committees are not struck before the House rises for the Christmas break, the NDP will use other venues to press the government, such as Question Period or debates. It is not clear if parliamentary committees will be formed before the holiday break, and opposition MPs are fearful that they won’t be created until February.
“They had the information, they had the knowledge. So it’s not so much a looking backward as a condemnation that the government didn’t act when there was more that could have been done,” she said.
In terms of what can be done now, Ms. McPherson said IRCC is understaffed and needs more resources, and that processing could be done more efficiently. She said it is up to Mr. Fraser to find a solution, adding: “He has inherited a very challenging file at a very challenging time, but we don’t have the luxury of time right now. He unfortunately doesn’t get months to get his feet wet. He is going to have to act with urgency.”
Conservative MP and deputy opposition whip James Bezan said the Tories will also be using every measure possible to press the government.
“It’s unconscionable that they would leave people at risk like that and not deal with this in a more expedient manner. So, we’ll use every available tool to us in Parliament to raise this issue to put pressure on the government and to find solutions,” he said.
He said he has heard that Liberals do not want committees to form before the next break, saying they’re avoiding accountability.
Still, the Tories will raise the issue and look for options as to how they can “best shine the light on the Liberals’ mishandling of this very critical issue.”
Alexander Cohen, a spokesperson for Mr. Fraser, said the government has added resources over the past months, cut red tape and acted quickly to process applications faster and get refugees out of Afghanistan.
“Our top priority is helping refugees leave Afghanistan as quickly as possible and make their way to safety in Canada,” he said.
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