OTTAWA — An Afghan MP forced to flee her homeland after the Taliban took power last year is pleading with Canada to do more to help bring Afghan refugees to safety.
Canada promised to resettle at least 40,000 Afghan refugees last summer and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said in late May that more than 14,000 have now arrived.
But Naheed Farid, who served in parliament in Afghanistan for 11 years, and three Canadian senators said on Thursday that applications for the remaining 26,000 people were already being processed and yet there are still thousands of desperate people waiting. a chance to flee to safety.
They are calling on the federal government not to stop at 40,000, to make it easier for Afghans to get visas and to create a special high-level committee headed by Fraser to cut through the bureaucracy that is making the whole process more difficult. than he is. should be.
“Even though the threshold of 40,000 refugees has already been reached, the responsibility, the determination and the commitment are not yet finished,” Farid said, joining a news conference in Ottawa via video link.
Farid said Canada has already done so much to help, but there remains a dire humanitarian and human rights situation for millions of people that demands an even bigger response.
The senators said their offices were inundated with requests for help and that initially efforts to work with embassy staff, diplomats and immigration officials were successful. But Ontario Senator Ratna Omidvar said the protocols and processes Canada has put in place to help have instead become an “impregnable fortress” of bureaucratic red tape that even senators can’t break through.
Manitoba Senator Marilou McPhedran said she couldn’t even get an answer from the government on who makes decisions about which Afghan candidates will be invited to resettle in Canada.
“So what’s happened in my experience, and again, I’m just speaking personally, is that we have very dedicated officials who basically can’t seem to answer most of the key questions on certain of these cases,” she said.
Afghans must first show that they meet the criteria and then cannot apply to come to Canada unless invited to do so by Canadian immigration officials. McPhedran said Fraser’s office told her they couldn’t intervene to decide who would be invited to apply and that all the officials she spoke with said they didn’t know who made those decisions but that it wasn’t. wasn’t them.
“So there’s a wizard behind the curtain here and it’s a moment where I don’t know where to turn now,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons we made the decision to speak up.”
McPhedran said the decisions also seemed quite arbitrary. She spoke of two women who had both worked for a Canadian aid organization in Afghanistan. After the fall of Kabul last August, the women sat in the same room and submitted applications through the Government of Canada portal at the same time.
A woman immediately received a response and is now preparing to board a plane for Canada. The other woman, whom McPhedran called “Zed” to protect her identity, got nothing in return, so reapplied and got an automatic response. She then applied a third time and again got nothing. She was able to get to Pakistan now, McPhedran said, but remains in danger.
“Even after verifying that this is a woman who has served Canada, whose entire salary has been paid by Canada to (the non-governmental organization), side by side with her colleague, her colleague is about to come to Canada, and we still don’t even give an invitation to apply for Zed,” McPhedran said.
Fraser’s spokesman, Vincent Hughes, said in an email that the commitment to 40,000 Afghan refugees “has not wavered”. He said there are 18,000 places available in the special immigration program for Afghans who have helped the Government of Canada in Afghanistan, including as interpreters for Canadian military or embassy staff. .
Hughes said applications from more than 15,000 Afghans and their families for this special program are in various stages of being processed. He said Global Affairs Canada and the Department of Defense had referred people to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for the remaining spots.
“We expect additional invitations to apply to be issued in the coming weeks,” Hughes said.
“We will continue to explore all available avenues to find ways to get as many of these people out of Afghanistan and Canada as quickly as possible.”
Ontario Senator Salma Ataullahjan says she can’t even put words to the horror stories she hears about what is happening in Afghanistan and that Canada has a moral obligation to do whatever it takes can to help.
“Afghanistan is the worst place on Earth right now and it’s not getting better,” Ataullahjan said.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 2, 2022.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press