Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the government is committing to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees from high-risk groups because Canada has a “moral imperative” to do right by the people of Afghanistan.
The new resettlement target doubles Ottawa’s initial figure announced in August. The decision to bring more Afghan refugees into Canada was made in response to the magnitude of the continuing crisis in Afghanistan, Mr. Mendicino said in an interview.
The program will still include private sponsorship and government-assisted refugees, though Mr. Mendicino did not yet provide a timeline. He said that Canada has resettled more than 2,500 Afghan refugees through the program already.
“Canada is once again showing its capacity to be a global trailblazer by being the first country in the world to launch a humanitarian resettlement program that specifically focuses on women, on girls, on LGBTI and targeted minorities,” Mr. Mendicino said. “We expanded this landmark pathway by doubling our humanitarian resettlement commitment from 20,000 to 40,000 Afghan refugees.”
He said the objective is to resettle those who are already outside of Afghanistan, though he did say that some individuals who are currently within Afghanistan may also qualify. He said federal officials are working to help people get out of the country via overland routes.
In August, as the Taliban rapidly gained control of Afghanistan, Ottawa announced a resettlement program to bring 20,000 Afghans from vulnerable groups into Canada. These included female leaders, human-rights advocates, journalists, LGBTQ individuals, those who belong to persecuted religious groups and families of interpreters already resettled in Canada.
The increase in the number of eligible Afghan refugees follows a campaign pledge in the Liberal platform, in which the party said it would boost the number from 20,000 to 40,000.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau made the announcement of the new target during his address at the United Nations on Monday.
“Canadians overwhelmingly called on us to do more. And in response to their generosity and welcoming spirit, we have now committed to welcoming 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada,” he said, likening this effort to Canada’s resettlement of Syrian refugees. More than 44,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since 2015, according to the website of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
As Taliban forces took control of Afghanistan this summer, some advocates said that Canada was slow to act to get Afghan interpreters, drivers and others who worked with the Canadian military and diplomatic service out of the country.
Fen Hampson, a professor of international affairs at Carleton University and president of the World Refugee and Migration Council, said that having an election in the middle of the crisis wasn’t ideal. “You do need political leadership to act, and our political leadership was distracted by the election,” he said.
Prof. Hampson said the move to increase the number of resettled Afghans was a “positive development,” and that it’s important to bring these individuals to Canada as quickly as possible. He added that Canada should help people who are still in the country get out if they want to as well.
Prof. Hampson also noted that the decision to announce the new target at the United Nations sends a message to the international community to take responsibility for the situation in Afghanistan, where the new Taliban government has restricted rights and many citizens are afraid they’ll be targeted because of their work with foreign governments.
“Canada is now in a position with some moral authority to encourage other countries, which are closing or have closed their doors, to also step up to the plate,” he said. “At the end of the day, this has to be a concerted and co-operative international effort.”
He added that the resettlement initiative should also be accompanied by diplomacy and funds to help people who have been displaced and need assistance before they get to Canada.
“There also needs to be concerted diplomacy on an ongoing basis to make sure that the new Taliban government is held to account,” he said.
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