Afghans who helped Canada stranded at Kabul airport due to passport rule, group says

Click to play video: 'Afghan refugees facing obstacles flying to Canada'
Afghan refugees facing obstacles flying to Canada
WATCH: Afghan refugees facing obstacles flying to Canada – Aug 10, 2021

Afghans trying to flee the Taliban through a special Canadian immigration program have been left behind at Kabul airport after learning they need valid passports to exit the country, according to a group helping them.

About 20 interpreters and others who helped Canada’s mission in Afghanistan have been unable to board their flights due to the passport requirement, said Wendy Long, a spokesperson for Afghan-Canadian Interpreters.

Although they have expired Afghan passports and national identity cards, the Afghan government will not let them leave, demanding they apply for new passports, Long said.

With the Taliban rapidly seizing cities amid a U.S. military withdrawal, the last-minute hitch has left some of the Afghans in fear and having to decide whether to separate their families.

“We cannot have brought all these people from all over the country and bring them to Kabul and just abandon them again,” Long said. “I mean, how does that sound?”

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A government source said Canada was working with Afghan authorities on the passport issue, as well as a requirement to have a negative COVID test, and hoped to have a resolution as soon as possible.

“Every effort is being made to put approved applicants on planes as quickly as possible,” said Nancy Caron, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“The government of Canada must also abide by the rules established by the host government and we are working collaboratively to address issues that have delayed the departure of some individuals.”

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Concerns grow for Afghans as Taliban threat intensifies

Long said one Afghan’s family members each had passports, but his was still being renewed. He begged officials to take his family to Canada while he stayed behind.

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“He was worried that something will happen,” Long said. “And his priority was his wife and children, and he said, ‘I don’t care about myself. I want my family on a plane.’ But they would not allow them to board the plane without him.”

Another had to decide whether to leave behind his mother while she waited for her passport application to be processed, which can take months.

“This is what people are now facing,” Long said. “’Do I abandon my family members who have no passports in the hopes that once they are able to obtain passports, they are able to come to Canada?’”

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Long questioned why the Canadian government failed to anticipate or address the Afghanistan government’s passport requirement, and said Ottawa should facilitate the issuance of passports to those who need them.

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While she expected the government would deal with the roughly 20 families stranded at the airport, she was worried about others still waiting to be called for their flights to Canada.

“A lot of the veterans in our community are personally invested in the outcome of this and I think Canada needs to step up to the plate,” Long said.

“I mean, part of this problem is Canada’s unwillingness all these years to have a program, and they have waited until the last minute to have this program, and this is the result of waiting until the last minute, is that now everyone is needing to scramble.”

A COVID-19 testing requirement is also causing complications, she said. The Afghans are being told they must undergo a PCR test at their own expense and bring a copy of their negative results to the airport.

Under pressure from veterans, the Canadian government said last month it would speed up resettlement of Afghans who contributed to Canada’s mission in Afghanistan due to fears they could be targeted by Taliban militants.

Eligible for the program are interpreters who worked with the Canadian Forces, cooks, drivers, cleaners, construction workers, security guards and local embassy staff, and their families.

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The first flight arrived last week. More are expected in the coming weeks.

“We committed to do right by the Afghans who supported Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. With the arrival of the first resettled Afghan refugees in Canada, we are making good on that promise,” the IRCC said in an Aug. 4 press release.

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