OTTAWA – In 2015, the Liberal government promised to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in a matter of months.
In 2016, the House of Commons voted to resettle hundreds of Yazidi refugees in a matter of months.
The government did that too.
Now federal conservatives wonder why the promise of bringing 40,000 Afghans to Canada is not given the same urgency.
By the end of this week, some 4,500 refugees from Afghanistan will have been brought here, the federal government said Tuesday. Data published on the Department of Immigration website suggests that most of them are part of a program for those with direct ties to Canada, while another 400 arrived under a separate humanitarian program.
On Tuesday, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told the House of Commons that Afghan refugees continue to arrive in Canada.
But thousands of applications remain in the queue, and many of the applicants remain stuck in Afghanistan despite efforts by private organizations to find safe passage out of the country while they await resettlement.
Some of those who fled their country remain in limbo, wondering if their applications to come to Canada will be approved, while others who were evacuated this summer remain living in hotels while awaiting final approval of their paperwork.
All of this, conservatives argue, is worthy of the full scrutiny of the House of Commons. They are calling for a special committee to explore Canada’s response to the collapse of Afghanistan’s government, which culminated in the fall of its capital, Kabul, on the day Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called elections last summer.
“We all saw the images of people running down the slopes, families desperate to get out of Afghanistan, and women bristling with fear of the repression that comes with the return of the Taliban,” Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said Tuesday when introducing the motion. .
“These images are etched in our minds, and Parliament must now do the work that the elections prevented us from doing at the time.”
In the debate on the motion on Tuesday, the Liberals agreed that what happened could be studied, but not by a special committee when the regulars would suffice.
They also expressed concern that the demands brought by the conservators of documents and other evidence would overburden the civil service at a time when it should focus on meeting Canada’s commitments to resettle Afghans.
Conservatives also made the issue their dominant line of attack during the question period, where Trudeau rejected O’Toole’s accusations that he put the government’s self-interest before the crisis in Afghanistan.
Canada will keep its promises, he said. “This is the work we continue to do because Canadians expect it.”
Retired Major General Denis Thompson, who once commanded Canadian troops in Afghanistan, said he welcomes the idea of a special committee because he believes more pressure should be put on the government to deliver on its promise.
But what he and other groups now involved in resettlement want most is a plan for the months to come, with a clearly named key person to lead it, much like the program Ottawa ran for Syrian refugees.
Winter is approaching in Afghanistan and now the warning bells are ringing about an impending humanitarian crisis in the country.
“It’s time to get on the horse and ride hard,” Thompson said. “People are suffering.”
A vote on the creation of the committee could take place on Wednesday.
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