Ottawa urged to halt deportation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan
A young Afghan is ready to reach Pakistan at the entry point of Spin Boldak, in the province of Kandahar. (Archives)
Federal government urged to intervene amid reports that Pakistan is set to arrest and deport Afghan refugees, many of whom are waiting to come to Canada.
In August 2021, the Liberal government promised to welcome 40,000 Afghans fleeing their country to escape the Taliban. This includes thousands of Afghans with ties to Canada, including former interpreters who served alongside the Canadian Armed Forces.
To date, only some 27,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in Canada, and thousands remain in Pakistan waiting to hear when they can leave.
The Pakistani government has set December 31 as the departure deadline for foreigners without visas or whose visas have expired. After this date, offenders risk being arrested and deported. Some fear, if returned to Afghan territory, persecution or death at the hands of the Taliban.
This threat will worsen what is already one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, said Wendy Cukier, of Lifeline Afghanistan, an organization that helps bring in Afghan refugees in Canada.
“Canada must use all the means at its disposal – diplomacy, humanitarian aid, even trade negotiations and economic partnerships – to persuade Pakistan to work with it to solve this problem.
— Wendy Cukier, of Lifeline Afghanistan
The Canadian government has received assurances from Pakistan that Afghans will not be arrested or deported after the December 31 deadline, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Dubois said Friday.
Although there have been concerns that some Afghan refugees may be returned to Afghanistan or imprisoned after December 31, the Pakistani government has indicated that the only Action taken against foreigners overstaying their visa will be re-imposition of fines and possibility of being blacklisted preventing their return to Pakistan, she pointed out.
She added that federal authorities appreciate the Government of Pakistan's continued efforts to facilitate the safe passage of Afghan refugees to Canada, and that it continues to advocate for simplified procedures and enhanced protections for vulnerable Afghans.
All of this remains cold comfort for New Democratic Party (NDP) immigration critic Jenny Kwan, who said she has warned the government of the deadline since Pakistan announced its plan. for the first time in October.
Ms Kwan pointed out that reports were circulating of the start of a crackdown by Pakistani authorities against Afghans. The country's police have reportedly checked visas of foreigners and made arrests, which they say is evidence of the current threat.
“The situation on the ground for people trying to escape Taliban persecution is not at all reassuring,” she added. The reality is that they live in fear every day.
— Jenny Kwan, NDP Immigration Critic
The spokeswoman said she personally received text messages according to which Pakistani police had raided a hotel where Afghan refugees were staying.
I am told that the only way to avoid these arrests is to pay large bribes, she said, adding that refugees do not #x27;did not have the resources to provide that kind of amount.
The federal government has been repeatedly criticized for the pace at which it is bringing Afghan refugees to Canada, and several view these delays as a lack of urgency.
Ms. Kwan echoed Ms. Cukier's call for Ottawa to exert all possible pressure on the Pakistan so that it does not act by the December 31 deadline, in addition to stepping up its resettlement efforts.
There are people who served Canada is the loved ones of people who put their lives at risk serving the country, and now the Taliban are aggressively hunting them down, she said. The government must keep its promise to bring these Afghans to safety.