Skip to main content
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino attends a press conference in Ottawa on May 13, 2021.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Thousands of Afghan nationals who worked for Canadian troops and diplomatic staff will be allowed to resettle in Canada through a fast-tracked process, as part of a new federal program intended to protect them from Taliban reprisals.

Three cabinet ministers on Friday described the program to reporters. They said that they could not provide many details, for security reasons.

The announcement comes after weeks in which the government faced increasing pressure to act in order to protect the lives of Afghans whose association with Canada now puts them at risk, as U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan and the Taliban expands its territory.

Story continues below advertisement

Former Canadian embassy employee says he fled Afghanistan after Taliban attack, urges Ottawa to extricate his family

Who Canada left behind in Afghanistan

Ottawa expedites plan to help Afghan interpreters come to Canada

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino acknowledged that the situation is urgent.

“The risk of retribution from the Taliban is grave,” Mr. Mendicino said, adding that people who worked with Canada, as well as their families, are often subject to intensifying threats of violence, torture and death. “Not only does Canada owe them a debt of gratitude, we have a moral obligation to do right by them,” he said.

Mr. Mendicino, joined by Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, said the program involves “special immigration measures,” and will include not only Afghans who worked for Canada, but also their families. He said that he anticipates the numbers of resettled people will be “in the several thousands.”

The government said the new program will offer a “path to protection in Canada” and will allow certain Afghan nationals to be in the country shortly. However, Mr. Mendicino did not provide a time frame, or details of what the protection would consist of.

The announcement was welcome news for Roya Shams, a graduate student in Ottawa, who said she has been terrified for her family in Afghanistan.

“To some extent it’s hopeful,” she said, adding that she is relieved to see the government taking action, though she is still anxious about the situation.

Ms. Shams said her father, who was an Afghan police officer and an advocate for girls’ education, used to work “side by side” with the Canadian military. She said he was assassinated in 2011, and now her family in Kandahar are in danger of Taliban reprisals.

Story continues below advertisement

“I fear for their lives,” she said. “The minute [the Taliban] come, I have no hope.”

Mr. Mendicino said the government’s focus is on those who have had a “significant and enduring relationship with the government of Canada in Afghanistan,” and that this includes interpreters who worked with Canadian forces, current and former locally engaged staff at the Canadian embassy, and their families.

Asked how many people are eligible, and when they will arrive, Mr. Mendicino said work is underway to identify eligible Afghans. He added later that the government is making an effort to be flexible and inclusive in the requirements.

The government’s new program follows weeks of pleas from various quarters.

Former Afghan drivers who worked for Canada recently told The Globe and Mail that they’re in danger, and that they have been asking the Canadian government to bring them to safety. And a former employee of the Canadian embassy in Afghanistan said he has been pleading with Ottawa to help get his family out of Kabul.

Andrew Rusk, the co-founder of Not Left Behind, an organization recently formed to advocate for action on the issue, said he was generally pleased with Friday’s announcement.

Story continues below advertisement

“But it shouldn’t have taken dozens of veterans and other Canadians to push the government to do the right thing,” said Mr. Rusk, whose sister-in-law was Nichola Goddard, the first woman to die in a combat role with the Canadian military.

Mr. Rusk said he and his wife, Kate, read in the news that the interpreter who had worked with Ms. Goddard was still in Afghanistan and needed to get to safety. That was what led him to start Not Left Behind, which consists of veterans, family members of veterans and others.

“Anybody that helped Canada previously that isn’t brought out has a target on their back,” Mr. Rusk said. “The Taliban isn’t going to care what your individual circumstances were.”

Canadian armed forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 2014.

In a statement, Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole said that the resettlement program comes too late. “The Liberal government should have made this announcement weeks ago,” he said. “The Americans made it clear that they would be leaving Afghanistan months ago, and the rise of the Taliban was an expected result.”

The NDP’s defence critic, Randall Garrison, and its immigration critic, Jenny Kwan, released a statement saying these measures are “long overdue” and that it was “unconscionable” for Canada not to have done more already.

Story continues below advertisement

“The Liberals’ scramble to change their tune is demonstrated by the fact that the government is still unsure how many Afghans are eligible to come to Canada,” the statement said.

Ms. Shams said she doesn’t know yet if her family will be resettled in Canada under the new program, but that she hopes they’ll qualify. She said her heart goes out to everyone who is in the same situation.

“Right now my family needs rescue,” Ms. Shams said. “I hope the Canadian government would consider everything that’s happening and bring my family to safety.”

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino says the federal government will fast-track the resettlement of Afghans who previously worked with the Canadian military and embassy and are now at risk from the Taliban. The Canadian Press

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the authors of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies