Afghans say asylum bids met with ‘silence’ and delays from Canada. Trudeau admits many on rescue list won’t be quickly reached


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Canada won’t be able to get the majority of the 6,000 Afghans on its rescue list out of Afghanistan as safe passage out of the Kabul airport remains uncertain, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged Thursday.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/08/2021 (586 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Canada won’t be able to get the majority of the 6,000 Afghans on its rescue list out of Afghanistan as safe passage out of the Kabul airport remains uncertain, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged Thursday.

For a fifth day on the federal election campaign trail, the Liberal party leader was dogged by questions about Ottawa’s response to the situation in Afghanistan.

“We are going to be there with spaces on aircraft to bring people to safety. But unless the Taliban shift their posture significantly, which is something the international community and Canada are working on, it is going to be very, very difficult to get many people out,” Trudeau said at a campaign stop in Victoria.

“We will get some, certainly, but to get many people out, as many as we’d want, is going to be almost impossible in the coming weeks. But that’s why we will continue to work with partners in the region.”

Canadian Armed Forces personnel arrived in Afghanistan on Thursday to co-ordinate at the tactical level with the United States and other allied partners, Trudeau said, and two CAF C-17s will make regular flights into Kabul to support evacuation efforts.

When reporters cited eyewitness accounts that the Taliban were not stopping the exodus of people and pointed out that other countres have had flights going in and were sending military teams to escort people from safe houses to the airport and onto planes, Trudeau insisted the situation is “complex and difficult.”

“Many of those international flights (that) have been leaving Afghanistan and leaving the Kabul airport, are not full. There are real challenges and impediments on the ground, in terms of getting people out, even though there is a clear wish, obviously, by Canada, and by countries around the world to get as many people out to safety as possible,” he said.

“But I can assure you that Canada, our forces and our personnel are working as hard as they can every single day to get people out of Afghanistan.”

Afghans in Canada and in Kabul, as well as their supporters, meanwhile, have criticized the slow processing and rigid paperwork required to be resettled in Canada, and have complained of bureaucratic silence from Canadian officials.

“I submitted everything for my family on July 30, and still have not heard anything,” said Khan, a former Afghan interpreter who now resides in Toronto and still has his widowed mother, four brothers and sisters in Afghanistan.

“I’m in exactly the same place as I was three weeks ago. It’s impossible to protect our family’s safety when our applications are met with silence,” added Khan, who asked his first name be withheld for his family’s safety.

Last Friday, the Liberal government announced it was expanding Canada’s resettlement program to welcome 20,000 Afghans, targeting those who belong to groups vulnerable to persecution by the Taliban, including female leaders, human-rights defenders, journalists, minorities and LGBTQI members.

According to immigration officials, the estimate has since grown to 21,000, including some 15,000 refugees outside of Afghanistan awaiting resettlement and 6,000 former employees of Canada and its forcesas well as their family members, most of who are still trapped in the country.

Hamilton resident Anne Tadgell spent more than a year working for an international aid organization in Afghanistan and returned to Canada in November. The group had hundreds of staff across the country, providing immediate humanitarian assistance, including shelter and water and sanitation infrastructure, as well as longer-term development efforts, such as education and skills training.

Over the past few weeks, some of her former Afghan colleagues, both male and female, have been in hiding after they were harassed at their homes, with Taliban members knocking on their doors. There was also a report of them being followed through the streets to and from work.

“Our concern is that it is only a matter of time before these threats escalate into direct violence. They urgently need to be added to the eligibility list for priority resettlement to Canada, in clear language,” said Tadgell, who asked the aid group’s name be withheld to protect the local employees’ safety.

“They are being targeted because of their association with foreign organizations.”

Tadgell said she and others are trying to help their friends, but there is “significant confusion” about Canada’s resettlement program and there is no clear language or answers on whether they are eligible.

They have made inquiries to the email address provided on Ottawa’s website but have only received automated responses, she said.

Tadgell said she had grown close to her Afghan colleagues and they would walk each other home at night and celebrate birth of their children and their weddings with them.

At her farewell last year, her colleagues gave her a lapis necklace and earrings as well as a beautiful traditional Afghan coat, with bright colours and small mirrored beads placed along the trim as a goodbye. In return, Tadgell made a collage of photos of time spent together on a pin board to document the friendships and achievements they shared.

“These are now my dearest memories,” said Tadgell. “The messages we have received in the last week have grown more panicked, afraid, stressed and hopeless. We always try to reply quickly, so they know we are still here with them, holding onto hope.”

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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