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Tories, advocates call on Ottawa to remove bureaucratic hurdles to resettling Afghans

Only 7,205 Afghans have actually arrived through the program

Opposition Conservatives are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to extend a special immigration program it set up to bring Afghans trying to flee the Taliban to Canada.

Tory MP Jasraj Singh Hallan says Ottawa has failed in its moral obligation to help people who assisted Canada with its military mission in Afghanistan and now face reprisals from the Taliban, which seized control of Kabul last year.

Trudeau’s government had announced plans to resettle 40,000 Afghans and put in place several programs through Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to help meet the goal.

Among those was a special immigration program to which Afghan nationals could apply if they had assisted members of the Canadian Armed Forces as interpreters or worked at Canada’s embassy.

Ottawa made room for 18,000 Afghans to come to Canada through this program.

According to the federal government’s website, it has received around 15,000 applications, 10,730 of which have been approved.

It reports that 7,205 Afghans have actually arrived through the program.

“It took the government a year to process less than half of the Afghans who applied through these measures,” Hallan said at a news conference Thursday.

He said a recent decision by the Ottawa to wind down the program because nearly all of the application spots are full is “shameful.”

Hallan also questioned why caps were placed on these programs in the first place, including the government’s overall commitment of taking 40,000 Afghans, when there are thousands more in danger.

Speaking in Nova Scotia on Thursday, Trudeau didn’t directly address whether Ottawa would expand the special measures program, but said one of the challenges is that there are hundreds of thousands of Afghans who would like to leave.

Hallan was joined at his news conference by two Afghans who managed to leave and make it to Canada.

Saeeq Shajjan, a lawyer, said colleagues have spent 11 months waiting to hear back from the federal immigration department, a delay he says is unacceptable.

He pointed out the situation is nothing like routine family reunification where a relative is waiting safely in another country to come to Canada.

“You’re talking about people who are at risk right now just because of the services they provided to the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, and it really needs to change now.”

Rahima Paiman, who was among those evacuated to Canada last year, said some Afghans are hiding in third countries, adding that women face particular risk under Taliban rule.

“Those women who did their best in Afghanistan are now in danger. Their very lives are at risk. I’m requesting you to please not stop supporting women in Afghanistan.”

– Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press