Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Afghan refugees wait to register in a camp near the Torkham Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Torkham, Afghanistan on Nov. 4. A huge number of Afghan refugees entered the Torkham border to return home hours before the expiration of a Pakistani government deadline for those who are in the country illegally to leave or face deportation.Ebrahim Noroozi/The Associated Press

Afghans awaiting resettlement in Canada have been caught up among the thousands in Pakistan who were recently rounded up, detained and deported to Afghanistan.

Last week, Pakistani officials began mass deportations of Afghans they said were living illegally in the country, a move that has faced widespread criticism. Authorities had announced in early October that undocumented Afghans would have until Nov. 1 to leave on their own. So far, more than 250,000 Afghans have left Pakistan.

Many who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban’s takeover of the country in August, 2021, had been in Pakistan on temporary visas, waiting for admission to other countries such as Canada. Some of those visas expired long ago.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said Afghans who have applications in process have been affected but would not say how many.

“IRCC is aware of instances and the potential threat of arrests and deportation of Afghans in Pakistan, including to IRCC clients,” said spokesperson Isabelle Dubois in a statement.

She said the department cannot provide additional details because of ongoing bilateral discussions as well as operational security and privacy issues.

“We are doing everything we can to help, including moving Afghans approved for resettlement to Canada as quickly as possible,” she said.

Ms. Dubois also said that if an applicant is facing the possibility of detention or deportation, the department urges them to notify the High Commission of Canada in Islamabad immediately or have a family member do so on their behalf.

She said the government is in touch with applicants, and Immigration Minister Marc Miller has been in contact with Pakistani government officials.

As the Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan after the chaotic withdrawal of Western troops more than two years ago, the Canadian government promised refuge to at least 40,000 Afghans, including those who worked for Canada’s military and diplomatic missions in the country. Ottawa says it has met that goal but is continuing the resettlement work.

Human Rights Watch has accused the Pakistani government of using threats, abuse and detention to coerce Afghans without legal status into returning to Afghanistan. The group says the deportations violate Pakistan’s obligations as a party to the UN Convention Against Torture and contravene the international-law principle of non-refoulment, which holds that people should not be forced to return to countries where they face the risk of torture or other persecution.

Last week The Globe and Mail reported that Afghans in Pakistan who have been waiting years to be resettled in Canada have been in hiding, terrified to go outdoors while the mass deportations are under way.

A former interpreter for Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan, whom The Globe met with last November in an Islamabad hotel, said he can’t take his sick wife to the hospital for fear of being deported. The Globe is not identifying him because he fears for his safety. He said he has already run into problems with Pakistani authorities and has paid bribes to avoid arrest.

For the past two years, Canadian veterans’ groups such as Aman Lara and the Veterans Transition Network have been working to evacuate Afghans.

Aman Lara said its efforts alongside those of Global Affairs Canada and IRCC have resulted in the evacuation of 5,828 people from Afghanistan and, as of Friday, the resettlement of 4,091 in Canada. The organization said Pakistan’s mass deportations could affect as many as a million Afghans. Among them, it said, almost 2,500 are clients with a long relationship with the Canadian government.

Aman Lara said it has six families who have been deported, adding that its team is working closely with regional partners to ensure their safety and well-being.

“It is vital that we provide assistance and support to these individuals, especially those who may face retribution by the Taliban. The situation is extremely concerning and requires immediate attention at an international level,” said Jon Feltham, Aman Lara’s program director and an Afghan war veteran.

Tim Laidler, the Afghan support director for the Veterans Transition Network, criticized the process and said that when those Afghans arrive in Canada they will need mental health support.

“The process has become so chaotic it’s undoing the purpose of the program, which is to give special immigration to the people who supported Canada’s mission,” he said.

“It’s putting people through more stress and pain. By the time they get to Canada, the amount of trauma stacked, it’s years the kids aren’t in school. It will be lifelong damage.”

With a report from the Associated Press

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe