Ottawa allowing thousands of Afghans to enter Canada via Pakistan, easing border restrictions

Children belonging to Afghan refugees living in Pakistan sit in front of a shop on the outskirts of Lahore on June 19 ARIF ALI / AFP / Getty Images

Ottawa issues one-trip travel documents to thousands of Afghans who have been approved for resettlement in Canada and urges them to cross to Pakistan, which has eased border restrictions, so they can stay there temporarily until they can catch flights.

Vincent Hughes, director of communications for immigration minister Sean Fraser, confirmed that Canada issues temporary travel documents that recipients can use in place of passports. The move provides an escape opportunity for Afghans who would not have been able to leave their country earlier due to a lack of proper documentation.

“We are communicating with our customers who remain in Afghanistan, letting them know that we can help facilitate travel to Pakistan,” said Hughes.

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Canadian organizations helping Afghans flee the Afghan Taliban regime have long urged Ottawa to issue such temporary travel documents. These humanitarian groups have been saying for months that bureaucratic obstacles, especially problems with obtaining Afghan passports, prevent potential refugees from reaching security.

Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan, has become an important travel destination for many Afghans to Canada as it is a relatively safe country where they can undergo biometric and medical research required by the Canadian government and then catch international flights without hindrance.Pakistan previously required Afghans to have visas and passports before crossing its border. Without these documents, they could not travel further to Canada.

But now Pakistan, like Canada, has temporarily relaxed document requirements. According to Hamid Raz Khan, a spokesman for the Pakistani High Commission in Ottawa, Afghans will receive visas upon arrival in Pakistan that will allow them to stay in the country for 30 days.

“They will be able to continue their journey to any country that has processed their immigration,” he said, adding that Afghans going to Canada would receive biometric and medical tests before flying them.

An Afghan boy sleeps under a mosquito net in makeshift tents set up by refugees outside the Islamabad press club in Islamabad on May 9. IRCC officials sent emails to Afghans who had been approved to come to Canada, ordering them to get to Pakistan as soon as possible. Rahmat Gul / The Associated Press

He noted that Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif had discussed Pakistan’s new policy with Canadian High Commissioner Wendy Gilmour earlier this week.

Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship of Canada (IRCC) officials sent emails to Afghans who had been approved to come to Canada, instructing them to come to Pakistan as soon as possible.

The immigration department advises them to go to Pakistan on their own or with the help of two Canadian veteran groups that are carrying out rescue operations on the spot: Veterans Transition Network and Aman Lara.

Brian Macdonald, executive director of Aman Lara, said his organization expects a dramatic increase in requests for help reaching Pakistan now that Ottawa has finally buckled under pressure to issue one-way travel documents.

“More than 50 people have contacted us since the government’s decision. But we expect this number to increase dramatically, ”he said. “Our best month is 500 people, so we’d like to double that for a few months if we can.”

Macdonald said there are thousands of Afghans who have worked for Canada’s military and diplomatic missions in Afghanistan but who have not been able to leave the country because they do not have the proper travel documents. Hundreds of others have fled to Pakistan and cannot leave now, he said.

“We have identified about 600 people in Pakistan who do not have documents. Maybe their passport has expired, or maybe they entered Pakistan without official documents – he added.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau enjoys a smile from two-month-old Hawa Rahimi as he meets her Afghan parents in Ottawa on October 9, 2021. The Globe reports that 200 Afghans who worked on Canadian-funded aid projects are being actively pursued by the Taliban. Justin Tang / The Canadian Press

Mr. Macdonald said the decision to issue travel documents for one trip would save many lives. He called on Afghans who receive notifications from the IRCC to contact his organization immediately so that they can safely get them out of Afghanistan.

“This is a chance to get thousands of people out of Afghanistan who have been recognized by the Canadian government system but have no documentation to cross other government obstacles,” he said.

Oliver Thorne, executive director of the Veterans Transition Network, said his organization was excited to bring more eligible Afghans to Canada. “This frontier facilitation is a realization of what VTN, veterans and countless other attorneys have campaigned for since the last Canadian plane took off. [Afghanistan] in August 2021 ” – he said in a statement.

Opposition MPs, including conservative foreign critic Michael Chong, also called on the liberal government to issue Afghans with one-trip travel documents.

In July of this year, Canada introduced a special immigration program for Afghans who assisted the country’s military and diplomatic mission in Afghanistan. While Ottawa’s Emergency Travel Documents will help those approved for resettlement under this program, many who thought they were eligible sent emails to the IRCC in August and were never invited to submit formal applications.

Two women who spoke to The Globe said the Taliban arrested one of their colleagues and took his cell phone from him.Over the phone, the militants found messages from a WhatsApp group consisting mainly of women who worked on relief projects. In the news, women criticized the Taliban and spoke of the difficulty of Ottawa obtaining special visas.

The Globe does not name women because they fear for their safety. They urge Canada to urgently approve them for resettlementso they can travel to Pakistan.

Dozens of former Canadian Embassy employees in Kabul also told The Globe recently that they had heard nothing from the IRCC.

The office of the Minister for Immigration recently announcedin a statement that the IRCC has received referrals from Canada’s Department of National Defense and Global Affairs to the remaining places in the immigration special program. But the office said it has yet to issue invitations to apply to all selected Afghans.

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