Two Years After Kabul’s Fall, Ottawa Considering Expansion of Afghan Immigration Program

Armed men attend a gathering to announce their support for Afghan security forces and that they are ready to fight against the Taliban, on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan June 23, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Following months of pressure from refugee advocacy groups and opposition parties, the federal government says it is thinking about increasing the number of Afghans it can bring to Canada.

“It’s safe to say publicly that we will show some flexibility,” said Immigration Minister Marc Miller, referring to the goal the Liberal Party set during the last federal election campaign of bringing 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada.

“There is some uncertainty in the number of people obviously that assisted Canada and clearly what their family members, who their family members are, and the level of risk that those people face in that country. And it’s not like Canada will hit a number and walk away from the table.”

He would not say which of the many immigration streams open to Afghans could be expanded. One of those streams — the Special Immigration Measures Program — is designed specifically for Afghans who assisted Canadian soldiers during their mission in Afghanistan.

“I think that we do not have a complete understanding of exactly the number of folks. We have a ballpark figure that assisted Canada in particular, of their family members and those that are at risk,” Miller said.

The federal government says it has admitted more than 36,530 Afghans since August 2021.

A politician stands with trees in the background.
Immigration Minister Marc Miller has been tasked with completing his government’s two-year-old promise to bring in at least 40,000 Afghans. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

But as Afghans this week mark the two-year anniversary of Kabul’s fall to the Taliban, many are still waiting to find out if they will be accepted into one of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s (IRCC) streams.

Last February, former Canadian military interpreter Asad Ali Afghan told CBC News that some of his extended family who made it to Pakistan — and were waiting on word from IRCC — wound up returning to Afghanistan after being caught by Pakistani authorities without legal documents.

‘I’m like a person divided’

He said they have since secured visas and returned to Pakistan but they’re still waiting to find out if they will be able to come to Canada.

“I’m happy I’m here,” he said from his home in Delta, British Columbia, where he moved with his wife, daughter and mother. “The problem is I’m always thinking about my family, like my nephews and everything.

“I’m like a person divided in two places. It’s always hard.”

Asad Ali Afghan (left), pictured here with an unnamed American official, spent years as an interpreter for the Canadian Armed Forces.
Asad Ali Afghan (left), pictured here in Afghanistan with an unnamed American official, spent years as a military interpreter for the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan. (Submitted)

One of his brothers spoke to CBC News from Pakistan, where he is staying with his own immediate family.

CBC News has agreed not to identify him because he fears being punished by the Taliban for his brother’s work for the Canadian military.

Through an interpreter, he said he does feel safer in Pakistan — even though he still dreads stepping outside his home and worries about harassment or bullying by local law enforcement.

“They will arrest me, they will put me in lockup or somewhere,” he said.

Afghan’s brother also said he has a limited amount of money and authorities have been known to ask for bribes.

“I do not want to be seen or caught by the police,” he said.

Pakistan’s government has vowed it won’t deport Afghans who can demonstrate they’re migrants on their way to a new home — but Asad Ali Afghan’s extended family does not have any immigration case files open with the Canadian government.

Afghan has sent the IRCC a document from Afghanistan on July 25 called an “inheritance letter.” It states his siblings became financially dependent on him after their father’s death in 2007.

He said the only thing he’s heard back from the department since is that it intends to review the file.

On Monday, the NDP’s foreign affairs critic said the federal government could be doing more to bring Afghan migrants here faster.

“What we’ve seen from the government is slow inaction in making sure that the most vulnerable can get to safety,” Heather McPherson said. 

IRCC says about 31 charter flights carrying Afghans from Pakistan have landed in Canada since January 2022.

Source : CBC