First Afghan human rights activists arrive six months after Ottawa’s aid pledge

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Published Tuesday, January 11, 2022 22:11 EST

OTTAWA – Six months after the federal government pledged to help thousands Afghan women leaders, human rights activists and journalists flee to Canada, the first planeload has landed.

Immigration Secretary Sean Fraser announced the arrival of 252 Afghan refugees on Tuesday, including the first 170 admitted through a special program for people the government says are human rights defenders.

“It is a privilege today to present this cohort of Afghan refugees, who are being persecuted for their work to protect the human rights of others,” Fraser said in a statement.

“I am grateful for their work to document and prevent human rights violations and proud that they now call our country home.”

The Liberal government launched the special program in July after weeks of criticism from angry Canadian veterans who were upset that Ottawa was not doing more to help. Afghans faced possible retaliation from the Taliban for collaborating with Canada in the past.

It was not immediately clear when the refugees who arrived in Calgary on a charter flight from Pakistan on Tuesday fled first AfghanIstanbul, which has been under Taliban rule since August.

Fraser’s office said the 170 who arrived through the special program had been referred to Canada by the Irish-based human rights group Front Line Defenders, which has been working to identify those most at risk.

The other 82 Afghans had worked in jobs with an “important and/or lasting relationship” with the Canadian government, as well as with family members.

Much of the concern expressed by Canadian veterans related to the fate of former interpreters and other first responders serving Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan and are now trapped, unable to flee.

Veterans and refugee advocacy groups had created a network of hiding places to house 1,700 former interpreters, cooks, guards and their families who will remain in Kabul until the government can process their asylum applications and get them out.

But because the government was slow to act before the Taliban took over, and because costs mounted and there was little prospect of getting more out of it, the network was shut down in November and hundreds Afghans were forced to take to the streets of Kabul.

The Liberals have promised 40,000 . to resettle Afghan refugees to Canada, but they are expected to be almost all people living in UN camps in Pakistan and other neighboring countries.

With Monday’s arrivals, the government says they have about 6,750 so far. has resettled Afghan refugees in Canada. Fraser suggested last month that it could take up to two years for the government to deliver on its 40,000 pledge Afghans.

Veterans and refugee groups aren’t the only ones to complain about the pace of government efforts when it comes to aid Afghans flight to Canada, where opposition parties have also joined the chorus of criticism in recent months.

The NDP has criticized what it believes to be excessive bureaucracy imposed on the desperate Afghans, while Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has filed a motion calling for a special committee to investigate the events leading up to the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.

MPs voted last month to set up the commission, which will also look at efforts to evacuate Canadian citizens trapped in Afghanistan and interpreters who have assisted the armed forces and other Canadian organizations.

But the conservative motion was amended by the Bloc Québécois, which said the commission’s primary goal should be to look at humanitarian aid to Afghan people.

It also imposed restrictions on documents to be released to the commission and said some, for example documents that could endanger national security, could be redacted.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 11, 2021.


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