Afghanistan’s ambassador urges that steps be taken to ensure that Afghans who have been approved to come to Canada do not have to risk being detained by the Taliban when applying for a passport.
Hassan Soroosh, ambassador to Canada, said in an interview that Afghans face house-to-house searches, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances under the Taliban.
He said Afghans who helped Canada and its international partners before the Taliban regained control are in a “highly vulnerable” state.
“In Afghanistan, there is a risk of arrest and prosecution for those who want to get a passport under the Taliban,” he said. “Those who have worked for the Canadian government and international partners, the risk is always there.”
The ambassador called for relaxing the rules on documents for approved Afghan refugees and immigrants trying to reach Canada.
“We want and hope that there will be a more flexible approach when it comes to documentation within Afghanistan and also the paperwork that is required to bring people into Canada,” he said.
He also called on Canada to expand eligibility criteria to come to the country under a humanitarian program established to help vulnerable Afghans facing Taliban persecution.
Canadian charities that help Afghans say many with permission to travel to Canada can’t get to neighboring countries to fly here because they don’t have the documentation or passport to cross the border.
Others have been waiting so long in countries like Pakistan and Uzbekistan for their applications to be processed by Ottawa that their visas have expired and they are being sent back to Afghanistan, where they face Taliban reprisals.
Aidan Strickland, a spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, said the department was informing Afghans who have been unable to leave that “it can help ease the journey to Pakistan.”
She said that Canada had been issuing single-trip travel documents to Afghans who had managed to leave the country but did not have a passport to board a plane.
“We are doing everything we can to help Afghans in and out of Afghanistan, including working with partners in the region, state entities, international organizations and non-profit organizations to identify a way forward to ensure safe passage for all. “, said.
Soroosh urged Canadians not to forget Afghanistan as the world community focuses on the Ukraine crisis.
The ambassador said that Afghanistan is facing “a terrible and tragic humanitarian crisis,” with a large proportion of children suffering from hunger, he said.
He said a recent earthquake, which killed around 800 people and injured many more, damaged buildings, schools and the water network, causing “unimaginable suffering”.
Poverty rates are expected to rise to 97 percent by the end of the year, when two-thirds of the population, according to the United Nations, will need life-saving food aid, he said.
Soroosh said the Taliban’s increasingly harsh stance towards women was making the situation worse because many were no longer allowed to work.
“Women are being gradually but systematically erased from public life,” he warned. “They are denied access to education, they can’t work, they can’t protest, it means they gradually become invisible.”
He added: “Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls are denied secondary education.”
Soroosh, whose embassy has no contact with the Taliban, still provides consular services to Afghans living in North America, including renewing passports and issuing birth certificates.
He said the Ottawa embassy was also serving Afghans living in the US after Afghan embassies closed there.
The embassy is financed by passport renewal fees and other consular services and with a very small budget and staff.
Soroosh said he was grateful to Canada for opening its doors to Afghans fleeing the Taliban and providing humanitarian assistance.
“Canada has always been one of the first countries to respond,” he said.
Although he said it was important not to legitimize or recognize the Taliban, he supported moves to make it easier for charities to operate in Afghanistan to provide aid.
Currently, any dealings with the Taliban are prohibited under Canada’s anti-terrorism laws, because the Taliban is a prescribed terrorist organization.
Non-governmental organizations have called for Canada to introduce exemptions to the Penal Code for humanitarian programs operating in Afghanistan, as in the United States.
“I am very hopeful that the outcome will help with a kind of solution that will help with humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, without helping the Taliban consolidate their power, without legitimizing the Taliban,” the ambassador said.
Soroosh said the Taliban was becoming increasingly hardline and was not a moderate or more inclusive version of the previous regime.
He said they are “the same old Taliban, they haven’t changed.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 8, 2022.