Advocates urge Ottawa to remove quota on Afghan refugee sponsorship program

Of note – quoted:

A group of advocates is urging the federal government to remove the limit on applications to sponsor certain Afghan refugees in Canada – or at least stop counting rejected applications towards it.

The government introduced a new program last month to allow Canadian individuals and organizations to privately sponsor up to 3,000 Afghan refugees who don’t have refugee status from the United Nations refugee agency or a foreign state.

It said it will accept sponsorship applications under the new program until Oct. 17, 2023, or once it has received applications for 3,000 refugees – whichever comes first.

In a letter sent to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser last week, a volunteer with Northern Lights Canada, a non-profit that’s been helping Afghan refugees in Toronto, said the new program’s cap is “highly prejudicial,” compared to the accommodations made for Ukrainians who want to come to Canada.

“Minister Fraser, I urge you to reconsider the design of the Afghan special program,” Heather Finley wrote in her letter dated Oct. 22.

“By raising the applicant quota and removing rejected applications from it, you will allow a more fair and equitable opportunity for Afghans in Canada to sponsor their families to join them here.”

Stephen Watt, co-founder of Northern Lights Canada, said the new program doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of Afghan refugees and their families and friends in Canada.

“Just having 3,000 spots in a crisis where millions of people are very recently displaced. It is insulting,” he said in an interview.

Almost 109,000 Ukrainians arrived to Canada between Jan. 1 and Oct. 23 under special programs the government introduced to help unlimited numbers of Ukrainians and their family members flee the war in Ukraine to safety.

Meanwhile, Ottawa has committed to resettling a total of 40,000 Afghan refugees after the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August of last year, with fewer than 23,000 having arrived in Canada so far.

Immigration Department spokeswoman Isabelle Dubois said the program that has allowed Ukrainians to come to Canada is using the department’s existing temporary resident visa processes, networks and infrastructure to bring as many of them as quickly as possible.

“This is not a refugee program, as compared to our Afghanistan refugee resettlement program, since Ukrainians have indicated that they need temporary safe harbour,” she said.

“Many of them intend to return to their home country when it will be safe to do so.”

Dubois said the government provided 3,000 additional spaces for organizations wanting to sponsor Afghan refugees in addition to the 3,000 spaces under the new special program.

“We are also processing existing and new private sponsorship applications for up to 7,000 Afghan refugees,” she said.

Watt said the new program’s application system crashed shortly after the government opened it at midnight on Oct. 17 due to many people rushing to submit applications.

He said many will likely end up rejected on a technicality because the government said it will process only the first 3,000 applicants and thus sponsors had to raise funds and write their sponsorship applications quickly.

“It’s so disappointing,” he said.

“This announcement that whether (the applications) are good or bad, we’re still going to count them towards the total. So, what that did was create this condition where people were frantically rushing to put together applications.”

Dubois confirmed the government will count all completed applications towards the new program’s 3,000 limit and said the department is currently reviewing the received applications to determine whether it reached that cap.

“We understand some clients experienced issues when submitting an application. No applications were lost as files were automatically backed up,” Dubois said.

“Applications are reviewed on a first-in, first-out basis to determine their completeness. We will continue to send out acknowledgments of receipt for applications that are determined to be complete and accepted into processing.”

Watt said the government should remove the cap on how many Afghan refugees can be privately sponsored for one year to allow people to work on the sponsorship applications – which he said can take months to put together because the requirements are so stringent and excessive.

“If you had a family of seven that may be $70,000 you have to get together. You have to get all the sponsorship documents lined up. You have to write the application,” he said.

“Filling out PDFs perfectly in perfect English when you’reanew Canadian, and having to having to rise to the challenge of these applications which are very demanding even for people who are completely fluent in English and have great use of computer skills.”

Andrew Griffith, a former director at the federal Immigration Department, said he is not aware of any government immigration or refugee program that counted rejected application towards the target other than the new special program for Afghan refugees.

He said many have been criticizing the government for apparently prioritizing Ukrainian refugees over Afghan refugees.

“The situations for both sets of refugees are dire in many cases,” he said. “I’m not (trying to) apply any value statements on that, but it does highlight another discrepancy between the two groups of refugees in my view.”

Griffith said it’s true that the Ukrainians are formally coming to Canada on temporary visas, but many of them may end up staying here.

“Realistically, how many of the people accepted from Ukraine will go back?” he said. “I think most of them would probably like to go. I don’t deny that. But it depends on the situation.”

Source: Advocates urge Ottawa to remove quota on Afghan refugee sponsorship program

This Afghan activist is fleeing the Taliban. Canada just rejected her visa request because it didn’t believe she’d go home

Will likely provoke reconsideration given the circumstances:

A prominent Afghan women’s rights activist desperately looking for refuge has been denied entry to Canada, despite a government program meant to resettle vulnerable Afghans just like her.

Farzana Adell Ghadiya, a Hazara minority facing persecution by the Taliban, recently received a boilerplate letter from Canadian immigration refusing an application for a temporary residence visa, which she required to enter the country for asylum.

To qualify for a visa, applicants must prove their ties — such as a job, home, financial assets or family — that will take them back to their home country and will leave Canada at the end of the visit.

Adell Ghadiya is in exile in a third country; she has asked the Star not to publish her whereabouts to protect her from repatriation. Given that she doesn’t dare return to Afghanistan, she explained her circumstances in the application and stated up front the purpose of her visit: to seek protection in Canada upon arrival.

“It’s shocking that the immigration department didn’t even take the time to read her affidavit and submissions, which lay out the threats to her life and the obstacles Farzana and many Afghans face in getting to Canada,” explains Matthew Behrens of the Ottawa-based Rural Refugee Rights Network, which is assisting the woman.

“It’s a fundamental breach of fairness to assess an application as something it isn’t. It shows how little value the lives of Afghan women have for the Canadian government.”

Adell Ghadiya was the chief of staff for the UN Commission on the Status of Women for the Afghan government overthrown by the Taliban last year. She is now in limbo in a country whose government, advocates say, is picking up Afghan refugees in sweeps and sending them back to the Taliban’s embrace.

Last year, Ottawa set a target to bring in 40,000 Afghans through a special immigration program for those who worked for the Canadian government in Afghanistan and a humanitarian program for women’s-rights advocates, human-rights defenders, journalists and at-risk minorities.

Adell Ghadiya’s supporters initially tried to get her here through the humanitarian program. However, to qualify, an applicant needs to first register with the United Nations Refugee Agency or the government of the country where they now live.

In the country where she is hiding, the UN agency stopped registering refugees a few years ago and the host government is friendly to the Taliban and reluctant to issue Afghans refugee certificates.

So her advocates helped her apply for temporary residence in Canada in early April, explicitly to seek refuge in the country upon arrival. Indeed, in the refusal letter, immigration officials noted that the purpose of her visit to Canada is not consistent with a temporary stay based on the circumstances she provided in the application.

“Your proposed length of stay in Canada is inconsistent with a temporary stay,” said the two-page form rejection, adding that she could re-apply if she can address those concerns and demonstrate “your situation meets the requirements.”

Adell Ghadiya said she’s devastated by the refusal, which she likens to murder, given the way the Taliban treat women’s-rights advocates who served under the fallen government of U.S.-supported president Ashraf Ghani.

“This is not consistent with the human values ​​that were previously announced by Canada to shelter Afghan women, and creates disappointment in my mind. The current situation of Afghanistan can be seen clearly and obviously to the world,” said Adell Ghadiya, who could face removal in the country she is in now when her visa there expires.

“I appeal to Immigration Minister Mr. Sean Fraser: you have the power to sign a permit to allow me to enter Canada. Why won’t you use that power and save my life?”

Sharen Craig, who is part of a women’s rights network in Ottawa helping Adell Ghadiya, said she is baffled by the government’s refusal to her friend into Canada when she saw a news story about an Afghan rescue dog named Alex reunited with his owner, an interpreter from Kabul, now in the country.

“What does it take to get Farzana here? Does she need to dress up as Scooby-Doo to be accepted? We have spoken with so many MPs, there’s been so much attention to her case,” said Craig, whose group has raised money to support a settlement plan for the Afghan woman.

“All we get is a brick wall of rejection. I am up every night worried with fear for my lovely friend, whom I truly feel has become like a daughter to me.”

Meanwhile, Fraser tweeted on Wednesday about another charter flight with 300 Afghan refugees landing in Toronto from Tajikistan, pushing the total number over 20,350 since the special Afghan resettlement programs kicked into gears a year ago.

Source: This Afghan activist is fleeing the Taliban. Canada just rejected her visa request because it didn’t believe she’d go home

Canada’s immigration minister leaves door open to extending Afghan resettlement programs

Of note:

As Canada reaches the halfway point of meeting its commitment to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser says he’s not ruling out lifting the current cap and welcoming more into this country.

But for the moment, he says, his main focus is the 8,500 people to whom Canada has already promised refuge who remain stuck in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

“When we hit that target (and) we have the ability to continue to support all of the people through additional pathways, then we’ll do what we can,” Fraser told the Star in an interview Thursday, on the eve of the arrival of the 20,000th resettled Afghan in Toronto on a charter flight from United Arab Emirates.

“What we have done is made the commitments to the 40,000. But we have not taken a decision never to do more for people from Afghanistan.”

Fraser’s softened tone was in contrast to how his office had previously underlined to media Canada’s commitment to meet the target it announced last October.

In June, the Star reported that Ottawa planned to stop taking in Afghans after it had enough applications to fill the announced spots, despite the fact that many who risked their lives to help the Canadian mission were still waiting for a response to their applications.

“The unfortunate reality is that not everyone who expressed interest in coming to Canada will be eligible. … We are doing everything we can to help Afghans inside and outside of Afghanistan,” Fraser’s press secretary told reporters at the time.

Fraser said there are currently 8,500 Canada-bound Afghans still inside Afghanistan who need to get to another country to complete the resettlement applications and meet requirements such as biometrics and health screening.

These applicants to whom Ottawa has already committed are his top priority and he is working with the international community to find ways to get them out of the country, he said.

He would not reveal the different options officials are investigating.

“I learned through my experience with this effort not to expect a smooth ride. We’re dealing with a territory that’s under the control of a group that’s listed as a terrorist entity in Canadian law. There is very little patience that the Taliban has for people who are eligible to come to Canada,” he explained.

“These 8,500 people who are already in the process are still inside Afghanistan. We are not wavering on our commitment to bring those individuals here. If it was a matter of bringing in any 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada, we could have done that.”

In terms of processing displaced Afghans who are now in a third country waiting to come to Canada, Fraser said the largest groups are in Pakistan and Tajikistan. But many of those are privately sponsored by community groups and their applications may fall outside the special resettlement programs.

This week, the Globe and Mail reported that a Manitoba senator’s office had issued an inauthentic Canadian government document to help facilitate an Afghan family’s travel.

Fraser said an internal investigation confirmed the document — known as “facilitation letter” to help eligible Afghans get through Taliban checkpoints — was inauthentic and that the matter has been referred to law enforcement.

“The integrity of the process has not been compromised because even the authentic letters that we did issue do not permit a person to enter Canada. An individual who used them to move through the airport still has to go through the application process and be issued an invitation to apply and complete the process and other steps required,” he said.

“To our knowledge, no one has been able to use an inauthentic facilitation letter to enter the program, but only to transit to and through the airport.”

Fraser said the Afghan resettlement project has been the most difficult but also rewarding task in his entire life and career as a parliamentarian.

He said it’s humbled him as he’s heard an Afghan woman arriving in Newfoundland saying “she finally has a home”; played soccers with the kids of a group of Afghan human rights defenders in Edmonton; and seen a new arrival kissing the ground of the tarmac in Toronto.

“It’s a great reminder of the lottery of birth that we win as Canadians, by virtue of being born in a country that is safe, where we take for granted that our communities will be peaceful places to grow up,” Fraser said.

“It’s not lost on me that we will have a lot of work ahead of us to make good on our commitment to hit 40,000.”

Source: Canada’s immigration minister leaves door open to extending Afghan resettlement programs

MP calls for parliamentary probe of inauthentic immigration documents, Afghan resettlement program

Of note:

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner is calling for a parliamentary probe into the extent to which inauthentic Canadian government travel documents were used during efforts to rescue people from the Taliban last year, and into the fairness of the government’s resettlement programs for Afghans.

On Wednesday, The Globe and Mail reported that Senator Marilou McPhedran and her staff sent documents to an Afghan family shortly after the Taliban overthrew Afghanistan’s government in August, 2021. The documents, called facilitation letters, said the people named on them had been granted visas to enter Canada. The letters were meant to help those people get through Taliban checkpoints on their way to Kabul’s airport.

But the federal government told The Globe the documents the Senator and her office sent were not authentic, and that the people named on them had not been approved to come to Canada. Authentic facilitation letters were sent only directly by the federal government, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told reporters on Wednesday.

The Immigration Department referred the matter to police. The RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency declined to say whether they had launched investigations.

Ms. McPhedran, whom Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recommended for a Senate appointment in 2016, has defended her actions to The Globe. She has acknowledged using a template version of a government facilitation letter, but she denied that the documents were fake, or that she had used them in an unauthorized way.

She said she had worked around the clock to help vulnerable people get out of Afghanistan during an inadequate federal effort to save Afghans last year. She added that a senior government official had given her the facilitation letter template, and that people within government were aware of her work. Despite repeated requests to the Immigration Department and Global Affairs Canada, the government has refused to say whether any federal officials helped Ms. McPhedran.

Receiving the documents from the Senator and her office left the Afghan family with the mistaken belief that they had been approved to come to Canada. That belief led them to risk their lives attempting to reach the airport, and also delayed their efforts to secure valid visas.

The people who received the documents are family members of one of Ms. Rempel Garner’s constituents. They first reached out to the MP’s office because not everyone in the family had received the documents, and they wanted to know why some had been left out. The group is still in Afghanistan, where they say they are being hunted by the Taliban. To protect their safety, The Globe is not identifying them.

“This case raises a lot of questions about the integrity and the fairness of the initial program,” Ms. Rempel Garner said in an interview with The Globe. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions.”

For example, she said, it remains unclear whether her constituent’s family members were the only ones who received inauthentic documents. And she said it is also unclear how many spaces in Canada’s resettlement programs for vulnerable Afghans were taken by people with such unofficial documents.

Ms. McPhedran did not answer The Globe’s questions about whether she sent similar documents to other people.

The federal government has said no one arrived in Canada using invalid documents, but a government source was unable to say if anyone had successfully used them to get out of Afghanistan. The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

In the years before the Taliban takeover, the Canadian government promised Afghans who worked with Canada’s military and diplomatic missions in Afghanistan that they would receive asylum in Canada, because their work with a foreign government put them at risk of Taliban reprisals. But the government didn’t create resettlement programs for Afghans until last year. Its effort to process those immigrants came too late for many, and was unable to meet overwhelming demand.

Tens of thousands of people who had helped NATO in its war in Afghanistan were left behind by Canada and other allied countries. Some are being tortured by the Taliban.

Ms. Rempel Garner spoke to The Globe with the permission of the Afghan family. They had formally applied for resettlement in Canada in the first wave of applications last year, but they later discovered their initial application had been lost.

A letter from Mr. Fraser to Ms. Rempel Garner, which was obtained by The Globe, said the family had not received a valid invitation to apply, despite the fact that they had received an invitation from a government of Canada e-mail address.

A second application, which they made this year, was rejected because Canada’s immigration programs for Afghans had already reached capacity limits set by the government.

In Ottawa on Wednesday, Mr. Fraser said letters that inaccurately purport to be from the government of Canada are a “very serious” matter. He added that he is concerned by any case where vulnerable people “might not be able to rely on documents they have received.”

But Mr. Fraser said he is not concerned that there has been widespread fraud, because the government has not uncovered a significant number of inauthentic documents.

Ms. Rempel Garner said her constituent’s family’s case also raises questions about the overall process that the federal government used to approve or reject resettlement applications from Afghan nationals. She said it’s not clear why her constituent’s family members, who worked for an organization under contract with the Canadian government, didn’t qualify for the immigration programs.

And she said the family’s efforts to escape Afghanistan were not hampered just by the inauthentic documents, but also by long waits for answers from the government about the status of their case. It took almost a year for the government to confirm to Ms. Rempel Garner that the documents the family had received were not authentic.

In 10 years of constituency casework, she said she has never experienced the level of federal government stonewalling that her office dealt with in this case. “Why that happened is something that needs to be examined through Parliament, or the government needs to pro-actively address it, because that really raises concerns about integrity within the immigration system,” she said.

“For this particular family, they’re in a great degree of danger now in Afghanistan. And the government has essentially said there’s not a lot of options to help them.”

NDP MP Jenny Kwan said she was taken aback by the use of inauthentic documents reported by The Globe. She called for more “clarity and investigation.”

Ms. Kwan said the police should make clear whether they are investigating the case. If they are, she said, any parliamentary probe should begin only after the police work is completed.

She also repeated her earlier calls for the government to lift what she said is an arbitrary cap on the number of spots in its immigration programs for Afghan nationals. She said the programs should be expanded so that all Afghans who served Canada can qualify.

“We need to bring them all to safety,” she said.

Source: MP calls for parliamentary probe of inauthentic immigration documents, Afghan resettlement program

Documents senator sent to family trapped in Afghanistan weren’t authentic, says federal immigration department

Embarrassing for Senator McPhedran but good that IRCC caught the error. And I think the Senator has to be more forthcoming on which “trusted high level Canadian government official” reportedly provided advice.

That being said, understandable that those desperate to leave Afghanistan after its fall to the Taliban would resort to such means:

In the final days of a chaotic and inadequate government effort to rescue people from the Taliban last summer, Senator Marilou McPhedran and one of her staff members sent travel documents to a family attempting to flee Afghanistan. The documents, called facilitation letters, were supposed to help the Afghans bypass checkpoints that had been set up around Kabul’s airport, so they could catch one of the last evacuation flights out of the country.

The letters, copies of which were obtained by The Globe and Mail, have the appearance of official Canadian government documents. They say that each of the Afghans named on them has been “granted a VISA to enter Canada” and ask that the group be given “safe travel to the Hamid Karzai International Airport so that they can board their organized flight.”

A year later, the people who received those documents are still stuck in Afghanistan. And the Canadian government has at last explained why: The facilitation letters they received from the senator and her office were not authentic, and the people named on them had not been approved to come to Canada.

Behind the scenes, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the federal immigration department, had conducted an internal investigation and referred the matter to police.

Ms. McPhedran, a long-time human-rights activist and lawyer, says she was trying to help, and that she acted in good faith. But communications obtained by The Globe show that receiving the documents from her office could have hampered the Afghans’ efforts to escape by giving them the mistaken impression that they had been cleared for travel.

The family had formally applied for resettlement in Canada, but they would later discover their application had been lost. A second application, which they made this year, was rejected because Canada’s immigration programs for Afghans were already at capacity. The group remains at risk in Afghanistan, hunted by the Taliban.

“The use of inauthentic facilitation letters is a serious matter,” IRCC spokesperson Rémi Larivière said in an e-mailed statement. Following the department’s internal investigation, he added, it “made a referral to the appropriate law enforcement partners.”

The RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency declined to say whether they have launched investigations, adding that it is generally their policy not to comment on cases unless charges are laid.

E-mailed statements from IRCC about the matter do not name Ms. McPhedran, but two government sources said the internal investigation was directly related to the documents sent by the senator and her office. The Globe is not identifying the sources because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

One source said the government is not aware of anyone coming to Canada using the inauthentic documents, but they were unable to say if anyone had successfully used them to get out of Afghanistan.

In an interview, in e-mails to The Globe and in letters sent by her lawyer, Ms. McPhedran defended her efforts to save vulnerable Afghans, who are now subject to the Taliban’s brutal fundamentalist regime. She acknowledged using a template version of a government facilitation letter, but she denied that the documents were fake, or that she had used them in an unauthorized way.

She said the facilitation letter template was sent to her by a “trusted high level Canadian government official,” whom she declined to identify. She also would not say who added the names to the facilitation letters sent by her and her office. And she did not answer a question about whether she knew the Afghans had not been approved for resettlement in Canada.

“There is nothing fraudulent or illicit about any actions I took with regard to the Afghanistan rescue efforts last August,” she said in an e-mail.

”That my good faith efforts to help save Afghan lives are now being mischaracterized as unauthorized or an overreach is a sad commentary about our governance and nothing more than a politically motivated smear campaign.”

Despite repeated requests to IRCC and Global Affairs Canada, the government has refused to say whether any federal officials helped Ms. McPhedran. IRCC’s Mr. Larivière said he would not comment further, to “protect the integrity and privacy of investigations.”

The senator said she had worked around the clock with advocates and non-governmental organizations in August, 2021, as she tried to rescue the people most at risk from hard-line Taliban rule – namely, women and girls. She has spent most of her life fighting for women’s rights. In 1985, she was invested into the Order of Canada for her work ensuring equal rights for women were enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recommended her for a Senate appointment in 2016.

For years before the events of 2021, the Canadian government had promised Afghans who had worked closely with the country’s military and diplomatic missions in Afghanistan that they and their families would be able to resettle in Canada. In 2012, embassy staff in Kabul asked the government to launch a special immigration program for those Afghans. Such a program was finally created in July, 2021, just weeks before the Taliban took over on Aug. 15.

On the same day as the takeover, 10,000 kilometres away from Afghanistan, Mr. Trudeau called a snap election, and the government shuttered its mission in Kabul and evacuated its staff from the city.

The speed of Afghanistan’s fall surprised NATO countries. They were left scrambling to evacuate Afghans whose work with foreign governments put them at risk of Taliban reprisals.

Ms. McPhedran’s lawyer, Matthew Gottlieb, said the senator received the facilitation letter template from a government official on Aug. 25. Flights out of Afghanistan were about to end, and the federal government’s immigration programs for Afghans had buckled under overwhelming demand and a cumbersome application process. Advocates say the eligibility criteria were opaque, and that the process was difficult to navigate in a war zone.

At the time, Kabul’s airport was constantly surrounded by thousands of Afghans hoping to be among the lucky minority allowed to pass through military guards and board flights out. The stakes were so high that some resorted to desperate measures. In at least one instance, parents passed an infant to American soldiers over a barbed wire barricade. In other cases, people tried to cling to the outsides of planes as they took off. On Aug. 26, a suicide bombing at one of the airport’s entrances killed scores of civilians.

Ultimately, tens of thousands of people who had helped NATO in its war in Afghanistan were left behind. Some are being tortured by the Taliban.

Ms. McPhedran told The Globe she acted how anyone would have in a life-or-death situation. She said her efforts “were known by high level government officials.” In some cases, she said, those officials “participated directly in these rescue efforts.” She added that there are e-mails that show people in government knew about her work.

Her lawyer, Mr. Gottlieb, said the senator lacked “the authority or permission” to provide those e-mails.

Mr. Gottlieb added that she “understood, and was told,” that the facilitation letters “could and should be used in assisting Afghans to get to the tarmac” at the Kabul airport.

IRCC’s Mr. Larivière said the government was using facilitation letters in August, 2021, to help ensure Afghans were able to get through security checkpoints on their way to the Kabul airport. But he said authentic documents were sent only by Global Affairs Canada and IRCC, and only through official government e-mail addresses.

Ms. McPhedran and her staff member sent at least two identical e-mails to a recipient of the facilitation letters in Afghanistan. The messages said Ms. McPhedran had learned the person’s name from the New York-based Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, where the senator is a board member. The organization did not reply to questions from The Globe.

The e-mails were brief. They said there was “no guarantee” the attached documents would help. They directed the recipient to a specific gate at the Kabul airport and ended by saying: “Please do not discuss; just present this document first to any Canadian soldier – flights end on the 26th!” The Globe is not naming the recipient of the e-mails or the other people named on the documents to protect their safety in Afghanistan.

The Globe also obtained a letter sent by MP Michelle Rempel Garner, whose constituent’s family members in Afghanistan are the people who received the inauthentic documents.

Ms. Rempel Garner’s letter, dated July 7, was sent to the constituent, as well as Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, Global Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Ms. McPhedran.

The letter detailed almost a year of work that Ms. Rempel Garner’s office had done to help the constituent’s family navigate the immigration system. It said her office at first believed the facilitation letters were legitimate government documents and tried to help the constituent understand why some members of her family had been approved to come to Canada while others had not been.

Over the course of that work, the letter said, Ms. Rempel Garner’s office began to have concerns about the validity of the facilitation letters. Ms. Rempel Garner wrote that, despite 10 months of work and after corresponding with government officials more than 30 times, no one in government had said whether the documents her constituent’s family had received were legitimate.

The letter also said that, because the family had believed they possessed legitimate documents, they had come out of hiding to travel to the airport and exposed themselves to danger.

Mr. Fraser clarified the status of the facilitation letters in a response to Ms. Rempel Garner later in July. He said IRCC did not issue the documents, nor did it have a record of the first of the family’s two resettlement applications.

“Since finding no record of the application, IRCC took steps to understand the nature of the letter you raised and related communication,” Mr. Fraser wrote. “The use of inauthentic facilitation letters is a serious matter, and IRCC has treated the matter with the attention it deserves.”

Source: Documents senator sent to family trapped in Afghanistan weren’t authentic, says federal immigration department

ICYMI: Ottawa capped immigration program for Afghans who worked with Canada since its launch

Bad marks for transparency but at least adjusted upwards:

When the federal government launched an immigration program for Afghans who worked with Canada’s military or government in Afghanistan, it capped the number of people it was willing to receive at a maximum of 2,500, though did not make that figure public for more than a year.

The cap for the special immigration measures (SIM) program was then gradually increased over several months.

The evolving caps were made public for the first time on Aug. 27 – more than a year after the program began – when the government published the temporary policies behind the program, which provide its legal foundation. The disclosure also shows that the program’s penultimate policy ended in January, at the latest, but a new one didn’t come into effect until June – a gap that two lawyers called “inexplicable.”

Maureen Silcoff and Sujit Choudhry, who have been retained by around 30 Afghan nationals to explore their legal options for securing entry to Canada, also criticized the federal government for capping the program, and for failing to publicize the caps and expiry dates spelled out in the policies from the beginning.

“These measures mean that from its inception, the government created an artificial cap that would inevitably leave Afghans behind to face possible death, because of their significant and enduring connection to Canada,” Ms. Silcoff said.

Opposition MPs and advocates have criticized the federal government for poor communication, long delays and seemingly arbitrary decision making within the SIM program. More than a year after Afghanistan fell to Taliban control, they say many Afghans who worked for Canada are still unsure whether they will eventually receive a shot at safe passage to Canada or be left behind. In the meantime, many are in hiding – in danger of being targeted by the Taliban.

While Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014, the SIM program also applies to Afghans who worked with Canada in the years since, such as at the Canadian embassy in Kabul.

The first time the federal government publicly referenced a limit to the SIM program was on April 25, when Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told the House special committee on Afghanistan that the government planned to welcome 18,000 Afghans through the program. In June, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) confirmed the vast majority of those 18,000 slots were spoken for, prompting widespread calls for the Liberal government to do away with the cap.

The official caps detailed in the government’s policies are not as simple as the 18,000-person plan, however. The first policy, dated July 22, 2021, as well as three updated versions, dated Aug. 9, Aug. 22, and Nov. 10, 2021, were all set to expire when IRCC received applications for a certain number of people – or on Jan. 31, 2022, whichever came first.

The first policy would end “on January 31, 2022, or once applications for 2,500 individuals have been received for resettlement to Canada, whichever comes first.” The subsequent three iterations upped the cap on applications to 5,700, then 9,500, then 14,000.

By the Aug. 22 version, the policy also made clear that the cap included both “principal applicants,” as well as “their family members and or other members of the household.”

Jeffrey MacDonald, an IRCC spokesperson, said in an e-mail the multiple policies for the SIM program reflect the federal government’s “ongoing and increasing” response to the situation in Afghanistan. (Mr. Fraser was not made available for an interview.)

The government’s current policy, dated June 8, 2022, sets out additional slots. It ends when applications for 5,000 people have been “accepted into processing” by IRCC or on March 31, 2023, whichever comes first, “with the view to fulfill the commitment of 18,000 admissions.”

With the Nov. 10, 2021 policy ending on Jan. 31, at the latest, and a new one not coming into effect until June 8, Ms. Silcoff and Mr. Choudhry questioned what took place during this gap. Mr. Choudhry said they found it “utterly inexplicable” that the program’s legal framework was allowed to expire at all – let alone for four months.

Mr. MacDonald did not dispute that there was a policy gap, but said “at no time did we stop processing applications we had received.” When The Globe and Mail followed up to ask whether IRCC issued any new invitations to apply during the four-month period, IRCC did not directly answer.

Instead, a second IRCC spokesperson, Rémi Larivière, said, “the processing of SIMs applications that were submitted prior to January 31, 2022 continued throughout the February – June period.”

Mr. MacDonald also did not directly answer whether the government has produced an estimate of the total number of Afghans it anticipated would qualify for the SIM program. He said the ability of the government and its security screening partners to process and vet applications was a factor in establishing the caps.

Mr. Choudhry said the evolving caps reveal them as arbitrary.

“It just suggests that the government was making up policy on the fly,” he said. “I refuse to believe that after 20 years in Afghanistan, we do not have a reliable estimate of how many individuals would qualify.”

According to IRCC, as of Sept. 7, the department has received 15,340 applications to the SIM program, resulting in 10,880 approvals, with 7,735 Afghans arriving in Canada.

The federal government has acknowledged the danger Afghans are in while they await answers, stating in the June 8 policy that Afghans who worked for Canada are at increased risk of being targeted for “attacks and assassination campaigns” because of that work.

Last week, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, submitted his first report, detailing numerous concerns since the Taliban took control, including a “staggering regression” of women’s and girls’ rights and “reports of ongoing extrajudicial and reprisal killings” by the Taliban.

Source: Ottawa capped immigration program for Afghans who worked with Canada since its launch

Canada less than halfway to Afghan resettlement goal one year after Taliban takeover

Of note. Not an easy process for those trying to get out but arguably IRCC capacity has been overly stretched given overall government priorities and related backlogs:

A year after the Taliban seized control of Kabul, Canada’s resettlement efforts have lagged behind official targets and the efforts to help those fleeing the war in Ukraine.

More than 17,300 Afghans have arrived in Canada since last August compared to 71,800 Ukrainians who have come to Canada in 2022 alone, according to government statistics. The federal government has promised to resettle 40,000 Afghans.

Canadian activists and MPs accuse the Liberals of not doing enough to help people who worked with the Canadian Forces in the country, including as interpreters.

They say some families are in hiding from the Taliban as they await approval of their immigration applications, while others have been split up, with children and spouses of applicants left behind.

New Democrat MP Jenny Kwan, who has been in contact with many Afghan refugees who worked with Canadian Forces, said there is a “stark difference” between the government’s treatment of those fleeing the Taliban and those fleeing the Russian invasion.

She said the situation for Afghans who helped Canada is “grave,” with many unable to escape the country and facing persecution by the Taliban.

She said some received no reply to their applications from the immigration department other than an automated response. Others seeking visas from the Taliban authorities to escape their regime were put in peril if they identified themselves.

“Their lives are in danger. They told me what the Taliban are calling them: they are called ‘the Western dogs,'” Kwan said.

“We owe them a debt of gratitude. We cannot abandon them.”

Amanda Moddejonge, a military veteran and activist, said she has witnessed families being split up, with only some making it to Canada. She also warned that Afghans who worked for Canadian Forces “are being hunted” by the Taliban.

“Nobody should face death for working for the Government of Canada, especially when this government can identify those who worked for them and is able to provide them life-saving assistance,” she said.

The warnings come as aid agencies working in Afghanistan raise alarms that the country is in a dire humanitarian crisis, with 18.9 million people facing acute hunger.

Asuntha Charles, national director of World Vision Afghanistan, said aid workers have encountered acute poverty and malnutrition, including among children.

“At least one million children are on the brink of starvation, and at least 36 per cent of Afghan children suffer from stunting — being small for their age — a common and largely irreversible effect of malnutrition,” she said.

“In the four areas we work, we’ve found that families live on less than a dollar day. This has forced seven out of 10 boys and half of all girls to work to help their families instead of going to school.”

Vincent Hughes, a spokesman for immigration minister Sean Fraser, said the Afghan and Ukrainian immigration programs are very different.

He said refugees who arrived through programs set up to bring them to Canada have a right to stay permanently, whereas it’s believed many Ukrainians who have fled to Canada intend eventually to return to Ukraine.

Helping get people out of Afghanistan and to Canada was very challenging, he added, as Canada has no diplomatic presence there and does not recognize the Taliban government.

“Our commitment of bringing at least 40,000 vulnerable Afghans to Canada has not wavered, and it remains one of the largest programs around the world,” he said.

“The situation in Afghanistan is unique as we are facing challenges that have not been present in other large-scale resettlement initiatives.”

Source: Canada less than halfway to Afghan resettlement goal one year after Taliban takeover

ICYMI: ‘Waiting for our death’: Afghan military lawyers beg Canada for help to escape

Sigh… As always, apart from the substance, lack of transparency and predictability on timelines cross-cut virtually all IRCC administrative problems:

A former Canadian military legal officer says a group of Afghan lawyers and other staff who helped his mission in Afghanistan have been “left in the dark,” and is urging Canada’s Immigration Ministry to act quickly to help them escape the Taliban.

It’s been one year since Canada began accepting fleeing Afghans through its one-year special immigration program for Afghans who helped the Canadian government, set up a few weeks before Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021.

To date, roughly 17,170 Afghans have arrived in Canada. Last month, the Liberal government closed its immigration program to new applicants, less than halfway toward its goal of bringing 40,000 Afghans to Canada.

“If [Canada] would not act upon my request and as soon as possible, I could lose my life,” said Popal, one of the Afghan military prosecutors who applied for this program, and whom CBC has agreed not to identify.

“When Popal called me for help, it was very heart-wrenching,” said retired major Cory Moore, a former military legal officer with the Canadian Armed Forces who was deployed three times to Afghanistan.

Moore is helping 12 applicants and their families apply for this program, and is still waiting for word from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on the fate of these 66 people. Their applications were filed between September and December 2021.

The group includes military prosecutors, criminal investigators, security staff, recruitment video participants, a doctor and a journalist. 

All 12 Afghans were involved in various capacities during Moore’s mission to help bolster the Afghan National Army’s legal branch. He created a project to recruit Afghan law grads, making a recruitment video which aired nationally from 2012 to 2021.

As a result, eight female military lawyers were hired as prosecutors and criminal investigators with the military, in what Moore calls a “historical precedent.”

“During the period in time in which we were doing the video shooting, it was a particularly dangerous time in Kabul when I had a target on my back,” he said. 

“They never left my side. They never cut and run…. It’s why Canada can’t turn its back on them now.”

‘We are getting hopeless’

Popal, who appeared in that recruitment video, was an Afghan army prosecutor for 10 years.

Through WhatsApp video chat, Popal said he and his family are in “extreme danger” because of his involvement with the recruitment project.

“We are getting hopeless and … we are just waiting for our death,” he said in Dari, through an interpreter.

Popal, who was reduced to tears during the conversation, said it’s been a year of hardship for his family. His kids can’t go to school or appear in public spaces, and he’s unable to work so it’s been difficult to put food on the table. The family is facing “serious threats,” he said.

“The danger we are facing is because we helped Canadians.”

Maryam, whose identity CBC has also agreed to protect because she’s also in hiding, is the first of the eight female lawyers hired as a result of Moore’s project. (Three of the lawyers have not yet been accounted for, Moore said.)

She prosecuted Taliban members accused of infiltrating the Afghan National Army. She also criminally investigated sexual assault cases involving Afghan military members who committed offences against army nurses.

“I’m in danger because of that position,” she said in Dari, through an interpreter. 

Maryam spoke about the mental health impact the wait has had on her and her family. 

“We’ve all got kind of psychological issues, psychological problems,” she said, pleading through tears: “Justin Trudeau … please get us out of here. Please, evacuate us from here…. We cannot live here anymore.” 

Silence from department

Moore contacted IRCC several times this spring about the status of the 12 applications.

“I wasn’t hearing anything,” he said. “They explained that none of the 12 applicants … were coming up in their system.”

After seeking clarity from other agents, Moore said one of them told him this: “She explained that if you had been screened out at the initial review stage, you’re not invited formally to make [an] application … and if you don’t receive an email like that, then your case just disappears.”

To date, none of the 12 Afghans received an email from IRCC about their application status. The government website instructs applicants to “wait for us to contact you” once an application has been submitted. 

“They don’t receive anything. They’re just left in the dark,” said Moore.

“[For Canada] to shut the door on a group of people who were so intimately involved in helping me succeed with my project, it’s unfathomable.”

By speaking publicly, Moore wants to stress how each applicant played a critical role in helping him and the Canadian military. 

“There’s no question that Afghanistan was made better by their work with me,” said Moore. “And quite honestly, I think Canada is a better place with this fine group of people in it.”

Tight timeline a ‘slap in the face’

Tamar Boghossian, an immigration lawyer with Boghossian Morais LLP, is helping Moore with the case. Last week, she refiled and updated all 12 applications.

Boghossian said all 12 applicants meet the government’s eligibility requirements, which she called “very vague.” The government lists just two examples of who can apply — Afghan nationals who worked at the Canadian embassy, or interpreters — but adds the program “is not limited to” those professions.

The issue, Boghossian said, is that the program has “no transparency.” The short timeline is also problematic, as the one-year program has already expired, she added.

“It’s a slap in the face … to those who actually helped the Canadian government,” said Boghossian. “Why can’t we help these individuals in return?”

She explained that most individuals who’ve applied to this special program don’t have proper documentation or passports, and are having difficulty obtaining them because they’re in hiding. 

She’s urging the Trudeau government to not only extend the deadline for applications, but to also expand the number of people Canada will receive. 

“40,000 applicants is not a lot for, you know, Canada being in Afghanistan for almost 15 years,” Boghossian said.

Government decision ‘shameful,’ says MP

During a news conference last month, Conservative MP and IRCC shadow minister Jasraj Singh Hallan called the Liberal government’s decision to wind down its one-year program “shameful.”

The Conservatives are among those calling on the government to reopen the special immigration program, and Hallan said it’s Canada’s “moral responsibility to help those who served alongside our country.”

“The government’s decision to shut down the [special program] is unconscionable,” Hallan said.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan has said the government’s claim that other immigration avenues remain open to Afghans is “deceptive.”

“That is just a rejection,” she said.

Ministry working ‘as quickly as possible’

On behalf of IRCC, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s office said it could not comment on the 12 applicants’ cases for privacy reasons. 

The ministry said it’s received 15,210 applications under the special program, and has approved about two-thirds of them so far.

“We are working to process applications as quickly as possible,” wrote Aidan Strickland, the minister’s spokesperson, noting the resettlement initiative for Afghans is uniquely challenging.

Strickland said the eligibility requirements are meant “to be as inclusive as possible,” and can include cooks, drivers and other staff who helped Canada’s military.

“We have accomplished much, but there is still more work to be done,” she wrote.

The office did not say whether it will reopen the program.

Source: ‘Waiting for our death’: Afghan military lawyers beg Canada for help to escape

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


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.”

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

The Silence of the Right on Ukrainian Refugees

Of note (not unique to USA as contrasting Canada’s previous firm policies in terms of access to work permits, healthcare and settlement services to Ukrainian temporary residents under the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel program compared to Afghans and others illustrates:

Last summer, anti-immigration advocates mobilized in opposition to the resettlement of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in the United States. “It threatens the national security of the United States,” wroteStephen Miller, the former top Donald Trump adviser. Miller charged in another tweet that President Joe Biden had “cruelly betrayed his oath of office” by expediting the entry of Afghans fleeing the Taliban without, Miller said, proper vetting. A prominent immigration-restrictionist group issued a report warning of fraud and abuse in the nation’s refugee programs, and immigration hard-liners flooded conservative airwaves throughout the fall to denounce the administration’s plans.

Then came another refugee crisis, this time in Ukraine. In March, Biden said the U.S. would admit up to 100,000 of the millions of Ukrainians who had left their country after the Russian invasion. The announcement was sure to provoke the outrage of the nation’s most ardent immigration foes, whose cries about an influx of refugees from a war-stricken region had barely faded from the news.

Except it didn’t.

Anti-immigration advocates have been far quieter about the Biden administration’s policy toward Ukrainian refugees than they were about its stance toward Afghan refugees. What’s more, the criticism they have leveled has had almost nothing to do with concerns about vetting or national security. Miller, for example, tweeted dozens of dire warnings about Afghan refugees during the summer and fall of 2021. He has also tweeted frequently about Ukraine since the crisis escalated at the beginning of this year, but not a single time about Biden’s plan to accept 100,000 refugees. (Through a spokesperson, he declined an interview request.)

To the groups who resettle refugees in the U.S., the divergent responses from the political right are a stark but familiar example of the long-standing bias against immigrants from poor or predominantly Muslim countries in favor of those from Europe, who are predominantly white. Those attitudes are also reflected in—and might contribute to—public opinion about America’s refugee policy. In a poll conducted last month for The Atlantic by Leger, 58 percent of respondents supported the U.S. accepting refugees from Ukraine, while just 46 percent backed admitting those from Afghanistan. Asked whether the U.S. should admit more refugees from one country than the other, 23 percent of respondents said the U.S. should take more people from Ukraine, while just 4 percent said the U.S. should accept more from Afghanistan, despite America’s two-decade involvement in the war there. Gallup found even broader support for admitting Ukrainian refugees, the highest for any refugee group it has polled about since 1939.

“Americans get a certain amount of compassion fatigue for certain parts of the world that are chronically in turmoil, and no American alive today can ever remember a time of peace in the Middle East,” Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that seeks a reduction in overall immigration to the U.S., told me. “It’s also true that Ukraine has not been viewed routinely as a source of refugees, of political conflict, at least not in the modern world.”

Senior officials with refugee-resettlement groups told me that they haven’t put much stock into the reaction of immigration hard-liners, because Republican governors and leaders in Congress have remained broadly supportive of accepting Afghan refugees. But they have sharply criticized the Biden administration for what they say is unequal treatment of refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine. “It certainly appears that Ukrainians are receiving special treatment,” Adam Bates, a policy counsel for the International Refugee Assistance Project, told me.

Under its Uniting With Ukraine program, the Biden administration is waiving all fees associated with applying for humanitarian parole. By contrast, IRAP says, the U.S. government charged more than 40,000 applicants from Afghanistan as much as $575 to seek similar protection last summer. The government is also scrapping requirements that Ukrainians submit evidence that they were specifically targeted by the Russian military or President Vladimir Putin, whereas Afghan applicants must provide proof of individualized, targeted violence against them by the Taliban.

The White House declined to comment. The administration has touted its evacuation of more than 82,000 Afghans to the U.S., including many allies who helped the U.S. military during its 20-year war. In both crises, the government has sought to route many applicants around the official refugee and special-immigrant visa programs because they are so backlogged. Officials have said that the humanitarian parole that the U.S. is offering to Ukrainians lasts for only two years, which Bates took as a suggestion that the government assumes many refugees will want to stay in the country only temporarily. I asked him what he thought was the real reason the Biden administration was expediting the process for Ukrainians in ways it did not for Afghans. “This is just speculating,” he cautioned in his reply. “But to me, I do not think that the influence of systemic racism and xenophobia in this country has been limited to just one party in the context of immigration.”

The politics of immigration have bedeviled Biden from his first days in office. Republicans have accused him of countenancing a veritable invasion of the southern border by migrants and asylum seekers, while progressives criticized his decision to keep in place some Trump-administration policies reviled by immigrant advocates. Biden’s critics on the right say his lax handling of the southern border has left the country stretched too thin to respond effectively to the humanitarian crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine. “The problem is that resettling refugees takes work and money and infrastructure, which has been overwhelmed by all the illegal aliens who were using asylum as a gambit to get past the Border Patrol,” Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the restrictionist Center for Immigration Studies, told me.

Many others, however, say the U.S. has both the moral obligation and the capacity to open its doors to those fleeing war and persecution.

Conservatives who have raised alarms about resettling Afghan refugees say the need to vet them is stronger because the American invasion created enemies who could try to sneak into the U.S. to exact revenge. They’ve also warned about the cultural differences between Afghanistan and the U.S., highlighting reports of child trafficking by male evacuees who claim young girls as their brides.

Krikorian has assailed the nation’s refugee policy across the board and told me the U.S. could do more good simply by sending money overseas to help resettle evacuees in countries closer to their homeland. But he had harsher words for the Biden administration’s pledge to admit refugees from Ukraine. “We clearly have more obligation to Afghans than we do to Ukrainians,” Krikorian said. At the same time, he said, individual Afghan refugees presented bigger security and cultural concerns than did Ukrainians. As an example, Krikorian referenced reports of widespread sexual abuse of young boys by members of the Afghan security forces made by members of the U.S. military during the war. “I wouldn’t say because of that, we don’t take Afghans, but we do take Ukrainians,” he said. “But in individual cases, in doing vetting and assessing whether it’s a good idea to bring somebody into the United States, we definitely should take that into consideration.”

Those reports and the stereotypes they feed may help explain why the public voices stronger support for refugees from Ukraine than from Afghanistan, and, on some level, why the government has treated them differently. But to those who work on behalf of refugees, they are beside the point. “Of course, we need to vet immigrants who are coming into the U.S. to make sure that they are not a threat to the American public. But we need to do that consistently,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, told me. “Both populations have strong rationales for seeking refuge here in the U.S. We shouldn’t pit one population against the other.”

Source: The Silence of the Right on Ukrainian Refugees