Canada struggling to process Afghan refugees, Taliban ‘not exactly being helpful’: PM

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the circumstances in Afghanistan are “heartbreaking” but Canada is facing challenges in processing refugees trying to flee the war-torn country.

Trudeau, whose Liberal government promised to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees in Canada, said Wednesday the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban is making the situation “unbelievably difficult.”

“As might be imagined, the Taliban are not exactly being helpful in terms of bringing people out of Afghanistan to Canada,” he said at a media availability in Kitchener, Ont.

“We continue to work with partners in the region and with allies around the world.”

Afghans who risked their lives to support Canada’s military mission, along with Canadian veterans who worked closely with them, have criticized the government’s refugee program for being slow and mired in red tape.

The Veterans Transition Network, a group working to help Afghans who assisted the Canadian Armed Forces, announced earlier this week it was winding down evacuation operations.

Executive director Oliver Thorne said “bureaucratic hoops” to getting the proper paperwork are causing a bottleneck, and he called on the Canadian government to resume consular services in Afghanistan.

Retired major-general Denis Thompson, who sits on the network’s board, said about 700 Afghans eligible to come to Canada are stuck in Pakistan because they don’t have an exit visa from that country.

He urged Canada to negotiate with Pakistan to change the exit visa requirements. Those talks should have begun much earlier, he said, before Pakistan began going through recent political upheaval.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said Trudeau is “deliberately missing the point.”

“Former Afghan interpreters are asking for his government to reduce documentation restrictions and provide them with one-time travel documents to demonstrate that they are approved to come to Canada,” she said in a statement.

The layers of bureaucracy create major barriers for people who had to burn many of their documents to avoid being targeted by the Taliban, she said.

Kwan said people with travel documents have been able to reach a third country, but many of their inquiries to the Canadian government have been met with silence.

“Time is not on their side, and the Liberals are looking for excuses to justify their inaction.”

Jasraj Singh Hallan, Conservative immigration critic, wrote on Twitter: “#ClearTheLiberalBacklogs.”

Kwan also said the Liberal government is ignoring calls to extend the exceptional immigration measures offered to Ukrainians to Afghans as well.

During a recent parliamentary committee meeting, Afghan interpreters who have made it to Canada told MPs their family members fleeing the Taliban deserve the same treatment as Ukrainians escaping from Russian troops.

Ghulam Faizi accused the government of making “fake promises’’ about the arrival of their loved ones, not one of whom has made it to Canada under a special program set up to bring them here.

Trudeau has said the situations are very different. In Ukraine, refugees are being helped by neighbouring countries, while in Afghanistan, the Taliban government is interfering with their ability to be processed, he has said.

The prime minister said Wednesday his government remains committed to welcoming 40,000 Afghans, including interpreters and others who worked with the Canadian military, as well as providing humanitarian support to Afghanistan.

So far, more than 10,600 Afghan refugees have arrived in Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2022.

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