HANSARD: Jenny speaks for the urgency of Canada's Afghan refugee effort and missing files

House of Commons Debate
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
Adjournment Proceedings
May 10th, 2022 / 6:55 p.m.


Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise today to follow up on the questions that I had brought to the government's attention and my concerns with its lack of action in ensuring that Afghans who are fleeing and hiding from the Taliban would be able to get to safety. I also raised with the government during this period that there are over 300 former Afghan interpreters whose families have been left behind. They have made an application and done a tremendous amount of work in guiding the government in bringing forward the necessary immigration measures to support their loved ones so that they can get to safety. Unfortunately, even with all of that guidance, the government has not been able to move forward in bringing their loved ones to Canada.

The problem rests with the government's inability to process these applications in an effective and efficient manner. The government is requiring individuals to provide documents that many of them would not have because they have had to burn them, because if they are found to have documentation that they are supporting or working with the Canadian military or have any links to the west, the minute the Taliban finds such documentation on them or in their residence, they would be targeted. This cannot be allowed to happen.

The Afghan interpreters have made these applications following the government's rules, and of those 300 applications, only 35% have been processed and 65% have yet to receive a G number. They have not received acknowledgement from the government. This is the reality. The urgency is getting grave. In fact, we found out yesterday at the Special Committee on Afghanistan that the Department of National Defence has submitted 3,800 applications that it has approved and vetted to Immigration, yet of those 3,800, only 900 have been processed. Some 2,900 are sitting somewhere and nobody knows where they are or what is happening with them.

In the meantime, we are getting media reports that Afghans who have supported the Canadian military are being hunted down by the Taliban. They have been tortured by the Taliban. That is the reality. There is such urgency in this situation that I really do not get what the government is doing. Liberals can get up every day and say what a great job they are doing, but the reality is that they are not doing a great job. There are so many family members who have been left behind and their lives are in danger every minute of the day as we speak. This cannot be allowed to happen.

I want know from the Minister of Immigration what is happening to those files. Why can IRCC not find them in the system? Global Affairs Canada has also made referrals to IRCC, and I am learning that those referrals that have been sent to IRCC have also vanished into thin air. In fact, IRCC is now asking the families of the representatives here in Canada to go back to GAC and ask it to resubmit those referrals. What on earth is going on with IRCC? Has it lost these files? Does it not realize that every minute of the day matters in the lives of these individuals and that we as Canadians owe these families to bring them to safety?


Adam van Koeverden (Liberal) Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and to the Minister of Sport

Madam Speaker, let me start by thanking the member for her deep concern about the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan and for the people who are affected there.

We in Canada, as a country, remain deeply concerned about the ongoing crisis. We take this very seriously and remain committed to do all that we can to support the Afghan people. Canada is also unwavering in our commitment to defend the fundamental rights of all Afghans, and this is an important part of who we are as Canadians. This is a personal thing for me, actually. My mother arrived here as a refugee in 1956. It is an important part of how we engage with allies and how we contribute to global stability around the world.

Since the Taliban forcefully took over Afghanistan, the world has witnessed the steady deterioration of social and economic systems in the country, leading to the largest humanitarian crisis around the world. We have also seen violence and the erosion of fundamental rights, including those of women and girls in religious and ethnic minorities.

That is why Canada has no intention of recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. That being said, Canada is also aware of what this crisis could mean for regional stability and global security.

We understand our role and our obligations. We have committed to welcoming at least 40,000 Afghans to Canada under our special immigration measures and humanitarian immigration programs. We are doing everything we can to help the many who supported Canada's efforts over the years but still remain in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. We are helping them resettle in Canada.

I would say that a couple of former Canadian Armed Forces members in my riding of Milton have been in touch with my office, and we have successfully resettled a couple of dozen in Milton. I am proud of that work.

We have also responded quickly and expeditiously to bring Afghan citizens and their families safely to their new homes. We are ensuring that, as we bring in new arrivals, they are being managed in a way that sets them up for success and that communities and service providers have the capacity to integrate those individuals and families successfully.

In addition to our immigration programs, in 2022 we have allocated $143 million in humanitarian assistance to support the humanitarian response inside Afghanistan and in neighbouring countries. Canada is doing this through the United Nations agencies which prioritize the provision of life-saving food and nutrition assistance. It is essential that humanitarian support remains principled, needs-based and separate from political and security objectives.

Canada, along with other like-minded donors, is also carefully weighing how to address basic needs beyond humanitarian needs, while following closely the Taliban's actions towards protecting the fundamental rights of all of its citizens. This includes maintaining an inclusive and representative government and the rule of law. The Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan has made it more complex to carry out activities in the country without risk of contravening Canada's Criminal Code. The Taliban remains a listed terrorist entity. Departments from across the government are seized with this issue and are actively working to identify a solution.

In closing, Canada's commitment to Afghanistan and the Afghan people is clear. We are working closely with our international partners to provide support that gets results.

As we work together to explore mechanisms for assistance beyond humanitarian means to support basic human rights, we will be guided by our long-standing values. It will not include a course of action that deliberately or inadvertently legitimizes the Taliban regime.


Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, the Liberal government just does not get it.

It is not acting with the level of urgency that is required. It is not waiving the burdensome red tape that has been foisted on the families, asking them to fill out application forms, only to layer more application forms on them, even though all of that has been done. Even though the Department of National Defence has verified that these individuals have an enduring relationship with Canada, are at risk and have serviced Canada, the government cannot find the files that have been referred by the Department of National Defence or from GAC. How is this even possible?

Does the government not realize that, when it delays the processing and delays acting, it is putting lives at risk?

I am calling on the government to waive the documentation requirements and to immediately issue single travel journey documents so these Afghans could get to safety now.


Adam van Koeverden (Liberal) Milton, ON

Madam Speaker, Canada is committed to Afghanistan and the Afghan people.

Tonight I have outlined a series of concrete actions taken in response to the humanitarian crisis caused by the Taliban regime. We recognize that there remains vulnerable people in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries, and we are doing what we can to assist them. The only viable way to improve the situation in Afghanistan is through continued collaboration with our international partners.

We will continue to call for the safe passage of vulnerable people and the provision of humanitarian aid.

We will also continue to call for inclusive and representative government and the protection of fundamental rights, including the rights of women and girls and religious and ethnic minorities.

Let there be no doubt that Canada's commitment is demonstrably clear. We have allocated financial resources and have taken concrete action through a whole-of-government approach, and we are changing lives every single day.



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