Immigration Minister Sean Fraser says thousands of Afghans have been approved for refugee resettlement in Canada, but the Taliban is preventing them from leaving the conflict zone.
Nearly nine months after the Liberal government began offering a series of special resettlement measures for Afghans, including those who supported Canada’s military and diplomatic mission in the country, just one quarter of the 40,000 refugees Canada committed to help have arrived.
Speaking in Vancouver on Wednesday, Mr. Fraser said the situation in Afghanistan presents “extraordinary challenges” that don’t exist in other refugee resettlement programs. He specifically cited concerns about the Taliban blocking the exit of Afghans who have been approved for resettlement in Canada.
“If this was a matter of political will, there would have been 40,000 Afghan refugees here months ago. The realistic situation is there is not safe passage for thousands and thousands of people who would like to come to Canada, some of whom have been approved to come to Canada,” Mr. Fraser said.
Mr. Fraser said that even if the terrorist group wanted to help Afghans leave for Canada, it would be incapable of running an airport or issuing travel documents in a professional way.
“At every step, there are logistical concerns with respect to the mission in Afghanistan that are not present in typical or other resettlement issues,” he said.
There have been deep concerns about the fate of former Afghan interpreters and support staff, including cooks, guards, drivers and cleaners, ever since the Taliban took over Afghanistan last August.
Former Afghan staff have told The Globe and Mail that they applied for resettlement in Canada last August. They received an automatic reply acknowledging their application but have heard nothing since. Meanwhile, the Taliban maintains its grip on the country, forcing vulnerable Afghans to run from safe house to safe house in an effort to escape Taliban reprisals.
The minister did not speak directly to the copious paperwork and lack of responses that the former Afghan staff have complained of, but spoke generally about the growing pressures on the immigration system.
“There’s never been more demands on our immigration system in Canada. But I don’t think we can use the fact that we’re facing a lot of demands to not do the right and just thing when a humanitarian crisis erupts in the world,” Mr. Fraser said.
Retired major-general David Fraser, who commanded Canadian troops in Afghanistan, recently told The Globe that approximately 10,000 former Canadian staff remain in the war-torn country.
The most recent government figures show 10,605 Afghans have arrived in Canada since last August. About half of the total Afghan arrivals – 5,615 – were resettled through the special program for those who supported Canada; 14,880 Afghans have applied for the program and 10,170 applications are approved, meaning about 4,500 have yet to arrive in Canada.
The other half of the Afghan arrivals – 4,990 people – have come to Canada through the humanitarian resettlement program, which offers protection to refugees from vulnerable groups, including female activists, human-rights advocates and Afghan journalists.
The minister said Afghans who have fled to neighbouring countries, such as Pakistan, also face challenges getting to Canada. In order for those Afghans to travel, they require a passport to leave the country they are seeking short-term protection in, and the documents can only be issued by the Taliban.
“You can appreciate that there’s a certain reticence for people who have fled Afghanistan, because potentially of the work that they’ve done for the Canadian government, to go and ask the Taliban for a favour,” Mr. Fraser said.
Despite the logistical troubles, the minister said the government is still on track to resettle 40,000 Afghans by next year.
The opposition parties have accused the Liberals of creating a two-tier system that prioritizes Ukrainians over refugees from other countries, such as Afghanistan. Last week, the House of Commons immigration committee passed a motion calling on the minister to extend the expedited immigration measures recently granted to Ukrainians to other humanitarian crises, including Afghanistan.
The Ukraine initiative is not directly comparable to the Afghan program, as Ukrainians are not technically considered refugees.
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