In the News: ‘We can’t close the door on Canada’s left behind in Afghanistan’

CW4WAfghan’s Executive Director, Dr. Lauryn Oates, recently published an article in The Hill Times entitled ‘We can’t close the door on Canada’s left behind in Afghanistan’. The article looks at Canada’s commitment to assisting Afghans reach safety, nearly one year into the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

In the article, Dr. Oates emphasizes the message that “If Canada is committed to people’s right to live free from tyranny, then it must be committed to this for all people.

Read the article below or on The Hill Times by clicking the button below.

We can’t close the door on Canada’s left behind in Afghanistan

Writtten by Dr. Lauryn Oates for The Hill Times

As we approach a year of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, it’s now painfully clear that any wishful thinking around a more moderate, inclusive Taliban this second time around has had to give way to the reality that this regime is unapologetically extremist, fascist, and repressive.

While the population starves, while jobs disappear, and people risk their lives and life savings to pay smugglers to get out, the Taliban have other priorities. They have busied themselves with passing new daily laws, like banning women from driving, requiring them to wear full face covers, demanding that they are chaperoned by male family members, and countless more nonsensical but still harmful edicts concerned with control over the social behaviour of their subjects, and implementing as quickly as possible rules that reflect their ideology. Girls in Grade 7 and up are still not allowed to go to school, a human rights violation that has now surpassed 260 days. It’s a humanitarian and human rights travesty that the whole world should be ashamed of.

This is a regime no human being should be forced to live under, and indeed millions of people have left while millions more seek to leave. We ought to do everything possible to support those seeking escape from this brutality, just as we would wish others to do for us were we in the shoes of the desperate Afghans now living under Taliban terror. Uppermost among those to whom we owe a moral and humanitarian obligation are the Afghans at particular risk because of their relationship to Canada. Through having supported values we encouraged them to advance, when they assisted our mission in their country, such as delivering development programming, supporting our military there, or working in our embassy.

Indeed, some such individuals now find themselves in Canada, starting new lives. But they represent only a small fraction of people who meet the criteria for Canada’s Special Immigration Measures program for Afghanistan, specifically, those who have a significant and enduring relationship with Canada. Many more qualified candidates who tried to apply to this program in August 2021—for the values we share with Afghans are many, as are the numbers who championed those values—have received only silence or impersonal, automatic replies. All the while, they have watched the lives they knew disintegrate—losing their livelihoods, their children’s access to education, their savings, and their sense of hope. For women, on top of these losses, there is the surreal and painful experience of becoming invisible, in a country where Canada once touted its dedication to and success with the advancement of their rights. The risks to these Afghans are intensifying as the Taliban consolidate their grip on power and get more organized in their plan to identify those with links to the former government and to their former backers from the West.

That is why Canada must renew the Special Immigration Measures for Afghanistan for another year, assisting more Afghans who worked on behalf of Canada to reach safety.

Last year, Canada initially committed to welcoming 20,000 Afghans, but then doubled this number as a Liberal election campaign promise. There is no reason why this commitment should be a one-time quota, and indeed many people interpreted it to mean that Canada was committing to 40,000 for a single one-year period.

But for those who are concerned about whether we can integrate 40,000 Afghans into Canadian society in one fell swoop, it is important to note that of this 40,000, to date only 12,160 have made it to Canada, since the program was first announced in July 2021. By comparison, within only two months—between Jan. 1 and March 3, 2022—6,100 Ukrainians reached Canada. So, it’s clear the commitment to welcoming 40,000 Afghans, which many assumed was a time-bound commitment that would be met within a year, is in fact going to be divided over years rather than months, making it not as large as it looks on first blush. There is therefore no reason to slam the door on this program on the basis of the argument that we can’t handle the numbers. The 40,000 commitment need not constitute the one and only quota Canada designates in response to the Afghan crisis, a crisis that is now clearly going to be for the long term. Indeed, thousands of Canadians have stepped up to welcome and support the integration of Afghans as they arrive; our organization hears from many of them every month, ready to share resources, advice, and a sense of belonging. This, too, is a hallmark of Canadian society and values.

And there are very good reasons to keep the door open on the basis of need, and of alignment to our purported values as a country. If Canada is committed to people’s right to live free from tyranny, then it must be committed to this for all people. It’s true that Afghanistan has become a very difficult country in which to deliver development and humanitarian programming; there are now many more limitations to what can be done to meaningfully improve lives there. But one thing we can do is open our doors to Afghans who had proudly and ably worked to advance Canadian interests in Afghanistan and who are now fleeing this cataclysmic situation. We can say, with our policies and our actions, that we care about their fates, that we will honour our shared values and our lasting relationships. Extending the Special Immigration Measures for Afghans is one practical way we can do this. Let us not leave behind the people we once needed who now need us.

Dr. Lauryn Oates is the executive director of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.