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Afghan lawyer Bibi Chaman Hafizi poses for a picture in her apartment in Athens, Greece, October 15, 2021.ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS/Reuters

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s office is unable to say how much time Canada will need to finish processing the resettlement applications of 55 female Afghan judges, prosecutors and their families who are stranded in Greece on expiring short-term visas.

The women and their families have been told that Canada will take them in, but they are still anxiously waiting for updates. The federal government has not told them how long it will be before Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada issues its decisions on their cases.

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The Globe and Mail reported in December that this group of Afghan women put some of the country’s highest-profile criminals in jail. As women, they face repression if they return to their home country, which is now under Taliban control. As former justice officials, they face possible retribution from the very criminals they prosecuted and sentenced, many of whom were freed after the Taliban takeover.

Judge Zamila Sangar told The Globe in December that “it is a frustrating wait. I want to go to Canada. But the Canadian visa process is very time-consuming.” She has been in Greece since October.

Greece granted the women and their families temporary visas on the understanding that the country would be a “lily pad” destination – a place where the Afghans would stay temporarily while they awaited visas from Canada, the United States and other countries. But the paperwork has taken months. In a letter to Mr. Fraser and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said some of the Greek visas will expire at the end of this month.

Alexander Cohen, a spokesperson for Mr. Fraser, said IRCC is aware of a significant number of Afghan female judges and others who have been referred by the Canadian government’s partners and are now being processed under Canada’s humanitarian resettlement program.

“This includes more than 230 women judges and their families, as well as members of the LGBTQ community,” Mr. Cohen said. He could not confirm that they would be approved for resettlement.

Mr. Cohen said processing times vary depending on individual circumstances, proper submission of documents by applicants, their locations and the exit processes of host countries. “We have been moving as quickly as possible to find solutions and get vulnerable Afghans to safety,” he said.

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Completing resettlement documents has been one of the largest barriers the women have faced while trying to reach Canada, according to Ms. Kwan.

In her letter, she wrote that the immigration forms are detailed and complex, and that filling them out requires internet access, which refugees might be unable to obtain. They might also need help from lawyers and translators.

“I hope you can appreciate the significant difficulties presented to them with these requirements,” the letter says. “Their situation is further challenged by the fact many do not speak English and have little financial resources available to them to obtain the necessary support to assist with this onerous process.”

Ms. Kwan added that, in IRCC’s correspondence with the women, there was no mention that their temporary visas for residence in Greece will soon expire, some as soon as Jan. 24.

“I spoke with an Afghan community leader with a direct connection to the women in question and was informed that the situation has been drawn out for so long that many do not even believe that the application process in which they are being asked to partake is legitimate,” she said in her letter.

Ms. Kwan urged the ministers to consider granting the women and their families temporary visas, so they can come to Canada and complete their applications in safety.

In her letter, Ms. Kwan argued that bureaucratic red tape is preventing the government from meeting its commitment to resettle 40,000 Afghans fleeing the Taliban. She said the government’s two-year timeline fails to recognize “the urgency and immediacy of the ongoing situation that Afghans are facing.”

Mr. Cohen said Ottawa has been moving quickly to find solutions and get vulnerable Afghans to safety. He said Canada has admitted more than 6,250 Afghan refugees, including 2,500 under its humanitarian resettlement program.

Ottawa’s evacuation efforts have faced months of criticism from veterans, volunteers and others who have been working to support and resettle Afghans. Last month, the death of a 10-year-old Afghan girl whose family had been approved to come to Canada highlighted the urgency of the situation.

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