Over 30,000 Afghan refugees have now arrived in Canada since their country fell to the Taliban, the federal government said Wednesday after the latest flight arrived from Pakistan at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
The flight included people who helped Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, family members of former interpreters and privately sponsored refugees, the government said.
Canada promised to resettle at least 40,000 Afghans through a number of special programs after the Taliban swept back into power in 2021.
That target is set to be hit by the end of this year, the government said Wednesday.
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“Although the Afghanistan resettlement effort is one of the largest and most difficult in Canada’s history, we remain committed to maximizing every opportunity to support these vulnerable Afghans in their transition to a better life in Canada,” Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said in a statement.
Ottawa has faced criticism for its chaotic attempts to get people to safety as the Taliban took over Kabul, with many pointing out that Canada closed its embassy earlier than other countries did.
Wednesday’s statement from the government admitted the lack of a diplomatic and military presence in the country posed “significant challenges” in getting people out of Afghanistan who wish to leave.
“We are navigating a constantly evolving situation in Afghanistan, where movement continues to be very difficult and dangerous,” the statement said.
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As of the end of March, 18,000 people had applied to come to Canada as part of a special immigration program meant for people who helped Canadian diplomats and troops during the mission, as well as their families.
So far, 11,990 applications had been approved, but only 9,875 had arrived in Canada by March 30, according to data published by the Immigration Department.
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Another special program has been created to help the extended family members of former interpreters who are already living in Canada. The government says it aims to bring 5,000 people in through that stream, and 1,285 had arrived by the end of March.
Another 15,875 people who fall under government-assisted and privately sponsored refugee programs were in Canada by that time.
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The government has also faced criticism over the length of time it takes many Afghans who wish to come to Canada to be processed. At-risk Afghans must first flee to a nearby safe third country that has a Canadian embassy, such as Pakistan, for biometric screening.
To enter that third country, they need to secure an Afghan passport and a visa, which many countries are not accepting, advocates have told Global News.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday the government’s focus is currently on hitting the 40,000 target before exploring next steps, including expanding the number of admissions.
“We’re continuing to work on fulfilling those numbers and we’ll look to what we can and must do in the future in other ways,” Trudeau said at a press conference in Winnipeg.
— with files from the Canadian Press
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