Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has defended the pace at which Canada is resettling thousands of Afghans waiting to be granted entry into the country, saying the situation is “challenging” but there’s “much more to do.”
Trudeau’s remarks came after a Global News investigation revealed Ottawa has left thousands of Afghan refugees stranded in Pakistan for months, long after they had been approved for resettlement in Canada under a special immigration stream for vulnerable Afghans.
Global News spoke to half a dozen families in limbo in Pakistan, many of whom say they have almost run out of money, cannot afford food, have expired visas or no passports and are depressed.
Trudeau was asked about the Afghan and Ukraine resettlement programs during a visit to Edmonton, while promoting his Liberal government’s recent budget and planned support for small businesses.
“We’ve committed to welcoming Afghan refugees by the tens of thousands. We’ve already welcomed many, but there’s much more to do and that situation over there is challenging in terms of just getting people out of Afghanistan, given the way the Taliban is preventing and obstructing people fleeing to safety,” Trudeau said.
He then described the situation in Ukraine as “heartbreaking,” but stressed that “every immigration or refugee situation is different,” and the government had launched a process specific to Ukraine to help those refugees.
However, he did not refer to any concrete action the government was taking to speed up the immigration process for Afghans.
“I can assure you that the immigration department and indeed the entire government is doing everything we can to welcome as many people as we can from as many places as we can, as quickly as possible which is what Canadians expect of us,” Trudeau said.
IRCC has brought in just one-quarter of the 40,000 refugees it pledged to bring to Canada in July last year, after the federal government unveiled a new, expedited “path to protection” for Afghans who supported Canadian troops as interpreters, cultural advisers or support staff, as well as their families.
It came after weeks of criticism from angry Canadian veterans upset Ottawa wasn’t doing more to help Afghans facing possible Taliban reprisals for having worked with Canada in the past.
Trudeau’s remarks came as Ottawa came under fire from the NDP for the “bureaucratic red tape” it was subjecting Afghans to while they sought resettlement in Canada.
On March 31, dozens of Afghan interpreters who worked with Canada’s military initiated a hunger strike on Parliament Hill to demand that the federal government do more to help their families left behind in Afghanistan.
NDP MP Jenny Kwan on Wednesday called for the government to waive documentation requirements for Afghan refugees and streamline the process to allow people to enter Canada quicker.
Kwan said in a statement that the government had requested “even more documentation” from family members of Afghan interpreters’ families seeking asylum. She said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) had emailed the interpreters stating they had 30 days to submit additional documents for their resettlement or their applications could be refused.
IRCC has not yet confirmed the documentation request or responded to questions on why this was necessary.
Kwan said the families “have gone through enough.”
“While the families flee for their lives in Afghanistan, the government is burying their loved ones with more onerous paperwork. For some, this may as well be a death sentence.”
Kwan called for the Liberals to waive the documentation requirements, issue single travel journey documents to the family members to reach a third country and organize evacuation flights to reunite them with their loved ones in Canada. The NDP is also calling on the government to waive the refugee determination requirements and allow the families to apply for the special immigration measures from within Afghanistan.
“Former Afghan interpreters are part of the Canadian military family — they deserve recognition,” Kwan said.