Afghan refugees arriving at Toronto's Pearson Airport on August 24, 2021.
The federal government is processing the last of 18,000 completed applications under the special refugee program. immigration program for former Afghan Armed Forces or Canadian government employees and their families.
While the Department of Immigration assures that more doors remain open for refugees who want to come to Canada, refugee advocates say the decision to end the special program is abandoning Afghans desperate to come to Canada. join the country.
The program was set up almost a year ago, a few weeks before Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021 and before that the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promises to receive 40,000 Afghans in safety.
The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada portal for the program is still accessible online, but a spokesperson for the Department of Immigration confirmed in a press release that all places in the program have been sold. taken.
The applications of some 15,000 Afghans and their family members are in various stages of processing, the IRCC spokesperson wrote.
The Toronto Starfirst reported that the program appeared to be on the verge of closing in mid-June, prompting a coalition of aid organizations to issue a joint statement condemning the move.
There hasn't been much clarity on the precise criteria from the government, said Lauryn Oates, executive director of Canadian Women 4 Women in Afghanistan.
Oates says 17 people from her organization have asked the Canadian government to let them know if they qualify for the program. They all started the process last year, but have yet to receive an invitation to apply, she adds.
“They tried everything. They knocked on the doors of other governments, other embassies, all kinds of other programs. […] They are trapped and they are in danger.
— Lauryn Oates, Executive Director of Canadian Women 4 Women in Afghanistan
Ms Oates is urging the government to extend the program for another year and to increase the number of places open to Afghan immigrants.
And alongside this we will do everything we can to get our people out of the country and to safety, she said.
CBC News spoke to an Afghan employed by a Canadian non-governmental organization who splits his time between Pakistan and Kabul. He is among those waiting to find out if they are eligible for the Canadian program.
I have been abandoned by Canada. I have not heard from them, he laments. Radio-Canada does not divulge his name because his office and neighborhood were searched by the Taliban.
He said he was devastated by the sudden collapse of the former Afghan government last August. He said when the news broke, he went to find his wife and children to take them into hiding.
Federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser's office said that other avenues remain possible for Afghans wishing to come to Canada, such as a humanitarian program and another to help the families of former military interpreters who are already here.
I think it's misleading of the government to make that suggestion to people, said NDP Immigration Critic Jenny Kwan. It's just a dead end for them.
“The government needs to extend the program to ensure that those who qualify, those who have served Canada, who are in the Canadian military and their family members, are brought to safety. ”
—Jenny Kwan, NDP Immigration Critic
In her statement to CBC, Mr. Fraser's office also said he received hundreds of thousands of communications from people expressing interest in coming to Canada since the fall of Kabul.
Unfortunately, this is a far larger number of refugees than what we can bring to Canada.
About 16,540 Afghan refugees have arrived in Canada since August of last year.
With information from Raffy Boudjikanian