Corbella: Humanitarian groups furious over Trudeau doing little to help Afghans who helped us

“If we don’t get this right, this is going to be a bloodbath,'” said Lauryn Oates, the executive director of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan

Calgary Herald

August 21, 2021

Anger doesn’t begin to describe what Canadians working around the clock feel about the situation in Afghanistan and the Canadian government’s lacklustre response. “Fury,” is a better word, admits John Clayton, director of programs and projects with Samaritan’s Purse Canada.

“If you watch CBC, you’ll see our dear prime minister tell the Canadian public what the government of Canada won’t be able to do. This is just a total load of BS,” says Clayton, who has been working to get dozens of people in Afghanistan out before they are slaughtered by the Taliban, which has gained control of most of the country after the U.S. military pulled out of the country.

Clayton says he just got notification from someone they’ve been helping who finally got on the government’s list of people who can get on a Canadian plane. They were sent notification in Kabul to go to the airport.

“They can’t get to the airport,” says Clayton, who adds this person and their family sent him a video clip of the road to the airport, jammed with people on foot with gunfire ringing out.

“Other European countries are sending troops outside the airport to some sort of muster points or places where people can be assembled and brought into the airport, otherwise it’s impossible. It’s impossible for a single person, but if you have small children, it would be a miracle to get there,” added Clayton, who has been to many war zones, including Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We’ve got a government that’s in the middle of an election that they didn’t need to call with a problem of very significant importance and we have people who are asleep at the switch, or on the campaign trail and not doing their freaking jobs.”

Clayton, who is normally very diplomatic in his wording, says because Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian aid organization, “doesn’t get a dime” of Canadian government money for its international and domestic humanitarian work, he can speak the truth more forcefully than many other non-governmental charity groups or civil society groups.

And he’s right. Other groups are loath to go on the record with their criticism of how the government has handled the situation, leaving thousands of vulnerable Afghans, particularly women, caught in tangles of government red tape that is putting their lives in jeopardy. This is after they were assured that helping our troops during the war in Afghanistan or working with civil society groups would not put them at risk, and if they were, they would be helped to get out safely.

Earlier this week, more than two dozen NGOs, including Samaritan’s Purse, signed a letter written by Oxfam Canada asking for “a special briefing” with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and with Foreign Affairs “to receive an update on Canada’s newly announced program supporting vulnerable Afghans.”

“So far, we’ve heard nothing from the government, it’s been crickets,” said Clayton.

“Our organizations are gravely concerned about the safety of our staff, partners and colleagues in Afghanistan, who have been reaching out over the past week as the security situation is rapidly deteriorating with the Taliban’s ascent to power,” states the letter.

“These women leaders and organizations, and our local staff, are now at grave risk and scrambling to get themselves and their families to safety. We have been inundated with requests for support and have facilitated asylum applications as best we can. It is now critical for government and civil society operating in Afghanistan to work together to ensure the women and girls have pathways to safety.”

Lauryn Oates, the executive director of Calgary-based Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WAfghan), is working round the clock from Portugal trying to get people out of Afghanistan, a country she has been working in for 25 years, since she was 14.

“It’s so frustrating and I’m just so angry because this was so preventable. Our whole focus right now is getting as many people as possible out alive,” said Oates via a Zoom call.

Lauryn Oates, executive director of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, in Afghanistan. Saturday, August 25, 2012. Photo/Tallulah Tallulah
Lauryn Oates, executive director of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, in Afghanistan. Saturday, August 25, 2012. Photo/Tallulah Tallulah Brendan Miller/Postmedia

“I have so much anger because of the inexcusable bureaucratic delays that we’ve seen that have prevented people from being able to leave.

“The one thing standing between them and leaving is a letter from IRCC, from Immigration, that page says they have permission to travel. We need a one-page letter, permission to travel and we can’t get that issued. So they can’t get in the airport gates without that, and at this point, I’ve given up on them getting on a Canadian military plane because there’s only two, that’s the grand total that Canada committed to what they have said is their No. 1 foreign policy priority.”

The federal government announced that 188 people were evacuated from Afghanistan on Friday — the first evacuation since the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15.

Oates says it’s all much too slow and if she thought it would help, she’d fly back to Canada and launch a hunger strike in front of Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino’s office or in front of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, but she can’t tear herself away from working the phones and is getting incredible help by numerous Canadian Armed Forces veterans, some of whom are bravely helping on the ground in Kabul, risking their lives to save others.

Oates has spoken with government officials and said: “I know there’s no political will, I know as I’m saying this in your mind, you’re saying, ‘Impossible,’ but this is like the precursor to Rwanda or Bosnia. If we don’t get this right, this is going to be a bloodbath and later everyone will say, ‘We should have done everything we could.’ No one will say, ‘Oh, well, it wasn’t politically expedient, there was no appetite to re-engage in combat or airstrikes, or it’s hard getting people to the airport.’”

Oates says the French and the British are getting Afghans who are on their lists into the chaotic Kabul airport, some are even using helicopters and Canada needs to pull out all the stops and help these people who risked so much working alongside Canadians to the airport and into a safe country.

Clayton says one of his colleagues in Afghanistan has two daughters the same age as his. “I’m fired up about this. I’m furious. We have to save these beautiful people.”

Licia Corbella is a Postmedia columnist in Calgary.

Twitter: @LiciaCorbella