Evacuees crowd the interior of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft carrying nearly 700 Afghans from Kabul to Qatar Aug. 15. CNS photo/courtesy Defense One handout via Reuters

Afghanistan: Sponsors ready for refugees

  • August 25, 2021

Catholic refugee sponsors are ready and eager to help Ottawa resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees, but three weeks after the federal government announced the new refugee resettlement target the sponsors are still waiting to learn when, how and how many refugees they can welcome.

“We have no idea” how the program will work, said Office for Refugees Archdiocese of Toronto director Deacon Rudy Ovcjak.

“They want to work with a whole bunch of partners, but the details of it are very vague,” he said.

The spike in Afghan refugees has accelerated over the last month as Taliban forces swept through the country and seized power just as the United States was completing its troop withdrawal after 20 years of trying to defeat the militant Islamic forces.

The Aug. 13 announcement that “processing times will be expedited” for “20,000 vulnerable Afghans threatened by the Taliban and forced to flee Afghanistan” came out of the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship before anybody in Ottawa had consulted with sponsorship agreement holders, the non-profit agencies that manage the resettlement of more than 20,000 privately-sponsored refugees a year, said Hamilton diocese Office for Refugees director Erin Pease.

“The government has already publicly suggested that privately-sponsored refugees will be included in the initiative, but we continue to wait for details,” Pease said in an e-mail.

“The government publicly tabled a commitment to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees prior to consulting the sponsorship community regarding its capacity and ability to respond.”

Pease wonders what happens to the thousands of Afghans who have been in Pakistan for years awaiting the opportunity to rejoin family in Canada and start their lives anew. The federal government’s officially posted processing time for refugees awaiting resettlement out of Pakistan is 38 months.

“It currently takes Canada more than three years, on average, to bring a sponsored Afghan family in Pakistan to safety in Canada. One might question the quality of the protection solution being offered by Canada in this context,” Pease said.

In 2019 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported 1.4 million Afghan refugees stuck in Pakistan — a number that has only grown over the last two years of Taliban violence.

When the government is willing to reveal the details of its program to expedite Afghan refugees, Catholics will be ready, said Ovcjak.

“When a parish sees the humanitarian need, they want to do something,” he said. “There is enough public impetus now to move the government to action. We’ve all seen in the last few days the terrible pictures coming out of Kabul. Canadians want to be part of the solution. That will move the government to speedy action, I’m hopeful.”

But Ovcjak also hopes the government doesn’t repeat mistakes it made in 2015 when it expedited 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. To rush through the paperwork — security checks, health checks, identity checks — on Syrian refugees, IRCC and embassy staff around the world were taken off whatever they were doing and put on the Syrian cases. The result was that Iraqi refugees languished.

Pease wants to be sure IRCC has a plan, and not just for Afghan refugees.

“Canada currently has the largest backlog of pending refugee sponsorship applications in Canadian history — 65,000,” she said. “Should the government choose to implement an Afghan resettlement initiative ... this would unquestionably inundate an already burdened system.”

The Catholic Register posed a number of questions to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada but did not receive a reply.

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