A year after the Taliban seized control of Kabul, Canada’s resettlement efforts have lagged behind official targets and the efforts to help those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
More than 17,300 Afghans have arrived in Canada since last August compared to 71,800 Ukrainians who have come to Canada in 2022 alone, according to government statistics. The federal government has promised to resettle 40,000 Afghans.
Canadian activists and MPs accuse the Liberals of not doing enough to help people who worked with the Canadian Forces in the country, including as interpreters.
They say some families are in hiding from the Taliban as they await approval of their immigration applications, while others have been split up, with children and spouses of applicants left behind.
New Democrat MP Jenny Kwan, who has been in contact with many Afghan refugees who worked with Canadian Forces, said there is a “stark difference” between the government’s treatment of those fleeing the Taliban and those fleeing the Russian invasion.
She said the situation for Afghans who helped Canada is “grave,” with many unable to escape the country and facing persecution by the Taliban.
She said some received no reply to their applications from the immigration department other than an automated response. Others seeking visas from the Taliban authorities to escape their regime were put in peril if they identified themselves.
“Their lives are in danger. They told me what the Taliban are calling them: they are called ‘the Western dogs,”‘ Kwan said.
“We owe them a debt of gratitude. We cannot abandon them.”
Amanda Moddejonge, a military veteran and activist, said she has witnessed families being split up, with only some making it to Canada. She also warned that Afghans who worked for Canadian Forces “are being hunted” by the Taliban.
“Nobody should face death for working for the Government of Canada, especially when this government can identify those who worked for them and is able to provide them life-saving assistance,” she said.
The warnings come as aid agencies working in Afghanistan raise alarms that the country is in a dire humanitarian crisis, with 18.9 million people facing acute hunger.
Asuntha Charles, national director of World Vision Afghanistan, said aid workers have encountered acute poverty and malnutrition, including among children.
“At least one million children are on the brink of starvation, and at least 36 per cent of Afghan children suffer from stunting — being small for their age — a common and largely irreversible effect of malnutrition,” she said.
“In the four areas we work, we’ve found that families live on less than a dollar day. This has forced seven out of 10 boys and half of all girls to work to help their families instead of going to school.”
Vincent Hughes, a spokesman for immigration minister Sean Fraser, said the Afghan and Ukrainian immigration programs are very different.
He said refugees who arrived through programs set up to bring them to Canada have a right to stay permanently, whereas it’s believed many Ukrainians who have fled to Canada intend eventually to return to Ukraine.
Helping get people out of Afghanistan and to Canada was very challenging, he added, as Canada has no diplomatic presence there and does not recognize the Taliban government.
“Our commitment of bringing at least 40,000 vulnerable Afghans to Canada has not wavered, and it remains one of the largest programs around the world,” he said.
“The situation in Afghanistan is unique as we are facing challenges that have not been present in other large-scale resettlement initiatives.”