Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it is “heartbreaking and horrific” to hear of Afghans being tortured by the Talban as they wait for resettlement to Canada, and repeated the government’s promise to bring them to safety.
“The fact that family members and individuals who supported Canada in our presence in Afghanistan over many years are specifically being targeted is completely atrocious,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters Thursday.
The Globe and Mail reported this week that people who have aided Canada’s military and diplomatic mission in Afghanistan have been detained and beaten by the Taliban. A former interpreter said he was beaten with a pipe and sticks after Taliban members arrested him when he was retrieving passports. A one-time embassy guard shared photos of abuse the Taliban inflicted on his colleagues.
Mr. Trudeau said that the Liberal government is working to fulfill its promise to bring more than 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada, but that it has been challenging to conduct proper security checks for those still in the country, where the Taliban remains in control.
“This is a consequence of the fact that the Taliban, basically a terrorist organization, is now in charge of Afghanistan and are not eager to facilitate the departure of some of their best and brightest to countries around the world, like Canada,” he said.
Ottawa will continue to work with allies and partners in the region to try and accelerate the process, Mr. Trudeau said, “because we know how much we owe to Afghans who supported Canadians while we were there to build a better future for them and their communities.”
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NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said at the House of Commons immigration committee Thursday that she is getting increasingly worried that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) appears to have lost some Afghan refugee files referred to it by Global Affairs Canada (GAC). She cited Afghan lawyers who worked with the embassy and have not heard anything about their cases. Last week, she said, the group was told to ask GAC to resubmit their referrals.
Ms. Kwan said that while the department sorts out files, Afghans with enduring relationships to Canada “are being captured by the Taliban and they’re being tortured. Every second of the day counts for the lives of these individuals.” She asked Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, who was appearing before the committee, why IRCC would have to ask GAC to resubmit the files.
“I don’t have any reason to believe that any files are lost in the system,” Mr. Fraser said.
“I expect that everyone who will be brought into the program, or who has reached out and will not be brought into the program, will have an answer in a very short period of time, I’m guessing in the next few weeks.”
Mr. Fraser also faced questions about IRCC’s growing application backlog in general, which topped more than 2.1 million at the end of April. Much of it can be attributed to a huge uptick in temporary residence applications, which more than doubled to 1.2 million last month from 590,000 in April, 2021, according to data obtained by the immigration news website CIC News. The backlog also includes tens of thousands of special emergency visa applications submitted recently by Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.
In addition to hiring 500 new processing staff, Mr. Fraser said the government has set aside $85-million to help reduce the backlogs. He said the new resources should help the department return to its prepandemic processing times by the end of the year.
Ottawa-based immigration lawyer Tamara Mosher-Kuczer said the growing backlog may also be partly attributed to duplicate applications. Last year, visitor-visa applicants were asked to resubmit if they had applied before Sept. 7, 2021, when Canada reopened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers. Other applicants have also resubmitted because they never received acknowledgement from IRCC, or they think newer applications will be processed faster, she said.
Complaints about the application backlog are being raised as the government seeks to increase immigration to support the country’s postpandemic recovery.
“Newcomers play an essential role in addressing some of our most severe labour shortages throughout the pandemic and as we enter the economic recovery phase,” Mr. Fraser said.
However, Ms. Mosher-Kuczer said some work-permit applicants abandon the process because they can’t get their Canadian documents in a reasonable amount of time.
Applicants from India face some of the longest processing times for a work permit, at 50 weeks. That’s followed by 49 weeks for applicants from Nigeria and 35 weeks for those from Pakistan.
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