MP Jenny Kwan - speech on the situation facing Afghan refugees

On December 7, 2021, MP Jenny Kwan gave a speech in the House on the situation in Afghanistan and facing Afghan refugees, calling on the government for specific immediate actions to save lives by bringing people to safety in Canada. The speech was in response to an Opposition Day motion to strike a Special Commttee on Afghanistan:

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Mr. Speaker, given this is my first full speech in the House, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the people of Vancouver East for sending me back here, to bring their voices to the House of Commons. I often look at this place as this place of the people and it is absolutely essential for us to do our jobs and bring our constituents' voices here, represent their needs and drive change. What I have done throughout my entire political life is to really stand by the community and fight for change that matters in their everyday experiences.

I also want to take a moment to thank the campaign team members. Without them, I would not be here. I often say that I am not here because of me; I am here because of the amazing people who work with me, support me and lift me up to do this work.

Finally, I come to this place always with these words in mind from the late lieutenant-governor David Lam. He said to me many years ago that it was not the title that brought one honour but rather what one did to honour the title. These are the words I live by every day in the House.

I requested an emergency debate on Afghanistan on the second day the House resumed after the election. It was my first opportunity to raise the issue, and I was so disappointed the Speaker ruled against it.

Now we have this motion before us, and the Afghanistan issue is absolutely a crisis to which Canada needs to put its mind. The situation in Afghanistan is heartbreaking and it did not have to be this way.

For decades, after risking their lives to help the Canadian Armed Forces, many Afghan interpreters, other collaborators and their extended families were left in the highly precarious situation, being targeted by the Taliban.

I was astounded, to be honest, when the former minister of immigration's, now the Minister of Public Safety, initial response to help them get to safety was that they could use the existing immigration measures. That was his suggestion. This delay in action prolonged the threats and further endangered lives. Let us be honest about that and let us own that reality. Canada owes them a debt of gratitude and every effort must be made to bring them to safety swiftly.

With the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, Canadian Afghan families are absolutely desperate to bring their loved ones here. I do not believe a day goes by where I do not receive a message from a family member across the country, or even outside of Canada, asking for help.

In fact, as recently as just this week, I received a message from an Afghan interpreter who received support from the United States and landed there, but whose family members were left behind. Afghan interpreters also helped the Canadian military. Now, even with the government's new Afghan measure it recently announced, they are precluded from being able to bring their family members here because they have to be in Canada in order to exercise that measure.

There is something really wrong with our approach to this entire situation. Time and again, the Canadian government, the Liberal government, has shown that it is not there for the people who helped us when we needed them the most.

According to the government’s own website, “Canada and its allies have received assurances from the Taliban that Afghan citizens with travel authorization from other countries will be allowed to leave Afghanistan.” Canada must not squander this small window of opportunity given the dire situation in Afghanistan. The NDP is therefore calling on the government to bring in an emergency immigration measure of utilizing temporary residence permits to help Afghans get to safety.

There is no question that the granting of TRPs should be made with temporary travel documents to all Afghans and their extended family members who have supported the Canadian military, to those who are advocates, fighting for human rights, and to women and girls in particular, who are in such dangerous situations. I know of judges and lawyers who have also been left behind. They are asking for help and urging the Canadian government to come to the forefront.

I am calling on the government to expand the same support to human rights activists in Afghanistan and Afghans with family members in Canada, especially those with family reunification applications still awaiting processing.

I have a constituent who fled Afghanistan and came to Canada as a refugee three years ago. The minute he was able to, he submitted a family reunification application to bring his wife and his children here to Canada. They have been waiting for three years, and it still has not been processed. Now this has happened. Every time I talk to him he is literally weeping, because he is so worried about his wife and his daughter. Why? It is because they are women in that country, where they cannot be alone. They cannot even go out to get groceries on their own. How do members think families like that feel, who are struggling with this problem? Special immigration measures need to recognize that women and girls need help. They cannot travel without a man accompanying them in Afghanistan right now. That is their reality.

The government needs to work with advocacy groups in Canada to identify people in Afghanistan and provide them with a TRP and travel documents so that they can get to a third country. I would say that Canada also needs to recognize that under the current environment, Afghans are inhibited from obtaining the necessary travel documents, including a valid visa.

It is essential that the Government of Canada waive the requirements for documentation at this time and immediately provide them with a TRP and the necessary travel documents. Once they are in safety here in Canada, we can then work to get the necessary paperwork in order, including family sponsorship applications or private refugee sponsorship opportunities. For all of that to work and for the government to promise that 40,000 refugees will be able to come to Canada from Afghanistan, we must also waive the refugee determination requirements.

Currently, in Turkestan, where many Afghans have fled, there is no system in place for processing Afghans who recently fled from Afghanistan, and refugee determinations are required to qualify under all of Canada’s refugee streams. The government must recognize that and rectify it. It is not something unheard of, by the way. It was done for the Syrian refugee initiative in 2015. If we could do that for refugees from Syria, we can do the same for refugees from Afghanistan. I am asking that we undertake those measures as we undertook them for the Syrian refugee initiative.

Canadians are deeply compassionate and more than willing to help those in need. Mr. Dan On is a successful entrepreneur in Vancouver. Some members may have seen the products he has on his shelves: the Dan-D Pak and all kinds of products and yummy things. He was a refugee from Vietnam. He came to Canada with literally the shirt on his back and was able to rebuild his life and become a successful entrepreneur. People from Vietnam are a model of how successful refugees can be. He has undertaken to fundraise, to support Afghan refugees all on his own and not ask for anything in return. He understands what it is like to have travelled that journey, and he wants to help.

I urge the government to take action. We can do it at committee; we can do it outside of committee; we can do it anywhere if we have the political will to make that difference. Let us save lives."

 

https://openparliament.ca/debates/2021/12/7/jenny-kwan-1/

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