Expanded refugee program for Afghans now expected within weeks

Toronto Star

Stephanie Levitz The Star Wed., Feb. 8, 2023

OTTAWA — An expanded refugee resettlement program for Afghans will be in place within weeks, government officials confirmed Wednesday, following a settlement in a human rights complaint filed by four Afghan-Canadians who deployed with the Canadian military to Afghanistan during the war.

The new policy would allow as many as 45 Afghans who worked as language and cultural advisers to bring family members to Canada. It was supposed to be implemented on Feb. 3 as part of the settlement, which was first reported by the Star last Friday.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said the delay is due to ensuring that the personal information of the individuals can be protected before the revised rules are published.

“We are working to make good on our commitment,” Fraser said following an appearance Wednesday before a House of Commons committee, which is exploring Canada’s response to the fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban in 2021.

That the policy will in fact see the light of day was revealed under pressure from Conservative and NDP MPs on the committee. Fraser and his department had not previously explained the delays since the Star reported the settlement and the promise of the new policy last week.

Under repeated questioning, he finally acknowledged a policy was on its way, with department officials later saying it would be rolled out “within the next couple of weeks.”

The urgency of the issue was made clear by the surprise appearance at the committee Wednesday of a man who served as a language and cultural adviser during the war, as part of a team of 45 Afghans recruited from within Canada to deploy with the Canadian Armed Forces.

The man arrived to upbraid Fraser on his delays in following through on the settlement, and Fraser subsequently agreed to meet him to discuss his case after his intervention.

The Star is not naming the man to protect his family.

His appearance followed another interruption of House of Commons proceedings earlier Wednesday by an Afghan man named Abdullah Hamdard, whose voice was full of anguish as he rose in the chamber and demanded Parliament help him bring his family to Canada.

Hamdard later told the Star he has been protesting for three weeks, seeking help as his family remains under threat from the Taliban.

Thousands of Afghans have been unable to qualify for the various special immigration measures put in place by the Liberal government after the Taliban overthrew their country in 2021.

Those left out of the programs included the roughly 45 language and cultural advisers (LCAs).

Unlike interpreters who were hired on contract via multinational firms, the LCAs were akin to serving members of the military, wearing uniforms and given high-level security clearances to carry out their work.

But also unlike the contractors, the LCAs weren’t eligible to apply to bring family members still in Afghanistan to Canada under the government’s broader resettlement efforts. They were instead were told they had to use traditional immigration channels like family reunification.

After the federal government set up an immigration program to help Ukranians flee to Canada in the aftermath of the Russian invasion, the LCAs took note, as none of the barriers they were facing in bringing their families to Canada were being put in the way of Ukranians.

Two of the men ultimately did reach a settlement, which promised that a new policy would be in place by Feb. 3, but that deadline had come and gone Friday with no new program in place.

On Wednesday, NDP MP Jenny Kwan said the fact the group had to file a complaint in the first place should never have happened.

“It shouldn’t actually have to come to that.”