OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau blamed Taliban checkpoints rather than bureaucracy and delays on Wednesday, as his government continued to face questions about the pace of Canada’s efforts to evacuate hundreds of Afghans from their country.
However, Trudeau’s comments stood in contrast to what Canadian veterans and others say has been the lack of information and responsiveness from immigration officials, with numerous reports of unanswered requests for help from the government.
That has led to growing frustration and fear for former Afghan interpreters and support staff who worked with Canada and now face the threat of retaliation from the Taliban if they are discovered and captured.
Appearing at a campaign event in Vancouver, Trudeau was asked about complaints that Afghans trying to escape to Canada face onerous paperwork requirements and a lack of communication from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
There have also been concerns that the eligibility criteria for the special program launched last month to resettle former performers and others have been unclear, particularly when it comes to extended families.
“The limiting factor in this is not the paperwork or the connections with the Canadian government,” the Liberal leader and prime minister said as Liberal candidates from across Vancouver watched.
“The limiting factor in getting people out of Afghanistan right now is that people can’t get to the airport, people can’t get out of the country.”
Trudeau went on to say that Canadian personnel are on the ground at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul and that the government has the capacity to process applications.
“We just need people to be able to get to the airport right now. The Taliban are preventing them from doing so, so we have seen that several of the planes that carry people by air are not full. “
Senior US military officials are talking to the Taliban about checkpoints and curfews that have limited the number of Westerners and Afghans who can enter the airport, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday.
US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser on Tuesday acknowledged reports that some civilians were having difficulty getting to the airport, but said “large numbers” were still arriving at the facility.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blames #Taliban for slowing down #Afghanistan #evacuations. #cdnpoli
Biden has given US officials until August 31 to finish evacuation efforts. Kirby said 2,000 people had been evacuated over the previous 24 hours on 18 military flights and that a similar number of flights were expected over the next 24 hours.
Following Trudeau’s comments, Canadian veterans, advocacy groups and former interpreters continued to express concern about Ottawa’s handling of the crisis, particularly when it comes to the Immigration Department’s lack of response to Afghans.
“We have heard dozens of reports from interpreters on the ground who have submitted their documentation and have just received no responses,” said Andrew Rusk, co-founder of Not Left Behind, whose organization is part of a grassroots network to help Afghans.
“So updates on how flows are processed remain something that with increasing transparency would benefit people on the ground.”
Rusk has said his group is aware of at least 2,000 people still in Afghanistan waiting to be evacuated.
The government has not provided a regular update on the number of Afghans brought to Canada under the special immigration program launched on July 23, or on the identities of those Afghans, citing privacy and security concerns.
Trudeau said Monday that 807 Afghans had arrived. Since then, two more flights have arrived to Canada. A request from The Canadian Press to IRCC for more up-to-date numbers on Tuesday had not been responded to more than 24 hours later.
Many of the 800 former Afghan interpreters resettled in Canada between 2008 and 2012 also continue to struggle for answers on whether their extended families will be able to enter the country despite repeated requests for information from the government.
“Many things are not clear,” said Khan, who came to Canada as part of a special program in 2012 and is now desperately trying to help his mother and siblings after they fled to Kabul from Kandahar to escape the Taliban. “We still don’t have a clear answer.”
Retired Corporal Tim Laidler, one of many Canadian veterans working to help former interpreters and their families come to Canada, echoed the concerns of others about lack of communication from immigration officials.
Laidler, who is now executive director of the Institute for Veterans Education and Transition at the University of British Columbia, said he is working with four families in Afghanistan who are waiting for immigration officials to tell them what to do.
Those families “are now stuck in the process,” he said. “(IRCC) says ‘please email this email address,’ and then they don’t say anything. They just say, ‘Wait.’
While many raised concerns about the pace of Canada’s efforts on Wednesday, the US State Department released a reading of a call between Foreign Minister Marc Garneau and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. .
In it, Blinken is said to have praised Canada’s commitment to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees who have already fled the country. That promise announced Friday is separate from the government’s commitment to helping Afghan interpreters.
Meanwhile, conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel Garner asked the government to outline its plan to achieve that goal, while urging the creation of a hotline for Afghans to check the status of members’ requests for help. of the family.
This Canadian Press report was first published on August 18, 2021.
– With files from The Associated Press.