Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday August 18, 2022
Canada pledged to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees, yet only 17,000 have made it
As anniversaries go, it’s not a happy one.
One year ago this week, the Canadian government announced it had suspended operations at its embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. And one year ago this week, President Joe Biden confirmed the U.S. would complete its withdrawal from the country.
Two weeks later, the last American soldier left Afghanistan, and the Taliban takeover was complete. Despite assurances from the Taliban that the rights of all Afghans, including women and children, would be protected, citizens have experienced a dramatic decline in their rights, freedoms and quality of life.
According to a report from the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan, human rights violations have escalated rapidly under the Taliban. Journalists, protesters and civil society activists have been arrested, and the report documents 160 extrajudicial killings, 56 cases of torture and 217 instances of cruel and inhumane punishments.
Perhaps the most visible curtailment of human rights involves those who are now, once again, invisible: Women and girls. Under Taliban rule, women and girls “have progressively had their rights to fully participate in education, the workplace and other aspects of public and daily life restricted and in many cases completely taken away.”
Heather Barr, associate director of the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, recently said on CTV National News: “Women have had all of their rights stripped away from them, and girls as well.”
Barr was critical of countries, including Canada, who claim to have a foreign policy that supports women’s rights but are not pushing hard enough for the change that is needed.
“If your feminist foreign policy doesn’t mean standing up and providing leadership and taking practical steps to try and address the most serious women’s rights crisis in the world right now, which is Afghanistan, what does your feminist foreign policy mean?”
Taliban excuses for these problems are legion, of course. The group blames others for the deteriorating situation, including Western countries for imposing sanctions, and the Islamic State, which is conducting a guerrilla war in Afghanistan.
Yet while these factors might be contributing to the problems, the Taliban remain responsible for the consequences of their behaviour.
Just as we remain responsible for the consequences of ours. Although the Canadian government has provided considerable humanitarian assistance to the country, it continues to ban non-governmental organizations from doing so.
As a result, for many Afghans, the only way out of jeopardy is to get out of the country. But sadly, that’s easier said than done.
Canada pledged to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees, yet only 17,000 have made it to Canada, compared with the more than 71,000 Ukrainians who have arrived since the Russian invasion. It’s important to note that the resettlement process is continuing, and has been hampered by logistical problems, but every Afghan who remains in Afghanistan remains in danger.
Even worse, one particular resettlement process is not continuing. The feds recently announced that they would be winding down the special immigration program for Afghans who assisted Canada’s long military mission there, including interpreters, community leaders and interlocutors.
The rationale, such as it is, is that the program is reaching its preset limit of 18,000 applications. Yet there shouldn’t be any arbitrary limit on the number of eligible claimants since the program is meant to aid all of those who aided us, not just those who submit their applications the fastest.
The feds have stressed that those previously eligible for the special program can still apply to come to Canada through other immigration streams open to any Afghans. But these are not any Afghans; they are people who aided our efforts and saved Canadian lives, often at the risk of their own.
Ensuring that every one of them has the opportunity to come to Canada is therefore not an act of charity, or even of good will, but a moral obligation we bear.
Now to be sure, much of the blame for the situation rests with the Taliban, as they have failed the Afghan people by failing to protect their rights. And for that, shame on them.
But we, too, have failed the Afghan people by failing to protect those who protected us. And for that, shame on us. (Hamilton Spectator editorial)