Afghanistan committee must zero-in on Canada’s refugee efforts, veterans say

WATCH: 'I feel empty inside': Afghan family still waits for Canada's help after being split fleeing Kabul.

He welcomes the probe into Canada’s response to the fall of Afghanistan, but retired Canadian Maj.-Gen. David Fraser is feeling frustrated.

While a special new committee of MPs prepares to put the spotlight on the government’s handling of the crisis, thousands of Afghans who helped Canada’s military during the 20-year-long War on Terror remain living under the Taliban flag.

Afghans are running out of hope, Fraser said, and he wants the committee to push the government to move faster on fulfilling its promise to bring 40,000 Afghans to Canada.

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“I’m happy that it’s going to be looked into because Canadians need to understand the magnitude of the challenge and of the humanitarian crisis that we are facing,” said Fraser, a former commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan.

“This is far from over, and yet at the same time, the situation is becoming absolutely critical. We need to know what the government is going to do about ameliorating this situation. This committee is an audit to find out that information and inform Canadians.”

On Wednesday in the House of Commons, a Conservative motion asking for a committee to be created to investigate Canada’s handling of the Afghanistan crisis passed with support from the NDP and Bloc Quebecois. Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith also voted in favour of the motion, while the remainder of governing party members voted against it.

The new committee, which will be made up of six Liberals, four Conservatives, one Bloc MP and one New Democrat, will be tasked with studying “the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, including, but not limited to, the government’s contingency planning for that event and the subsequent efforts to evacuate” a range of individuals.

Furthermore, the committee will also be “assessing the humanitarian assistance to be put in place by Canada to assist the Afghan people.” It meets for the first time on Dec. 17 to elect a chair and begin organizing its agenda.

On Aug. 15, Afghanistan fell into the hands of the Taliban following several weeks of advances in the country, ahead of the scheduled withdrawal of U.S troops on Aug. 31. The Taliban, a terrorist group known for its brutality and medieval governing style, had been ousted from power following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

The same day that Kabul fell, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an election. He came under heavy criticism throughout the campaign for the government’s handling of the crisis.

In a matter of two weeks, Canada rushed to get its diplomats, citizens, and many Afghan interpreters who assisted the military out of the country before American troops withdrew.

Canada ended its special operation on Aug. 26, and was able to get 3,700 people out primarily through an air bridge at Kabul International Airport.

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But thousands were left behind, and efforts to help them have since slowed. The advice for those who remained was to “stay put” while officials explored options.

Fraser, who has been working with a coalition of veterans and organizations to help with evacuations, told Global News they’ve been able to rescue 346 Afghans by land transportation since the air bridge closed.

However, with a humanitarian crisis looming, they’re still working with more than 10,000 who remain in the country.

“This is not a success story,” he said.

“We’re running out of time and the people over there are running out of hope.”

As part of its response, the federal government has promised to bring 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada. As of Dec. 2, 4,040 have arrived here under its special programs.

The government indicates on its website that it has received 14,675 applications for its special immigration program for Afghans who assisted the military; 9,600 of them have been approved.

The government has also created a new program to allow Afghan interpreters who worked with the Canadian Forces to bring their extended families to Canada.

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Those who have made it to Canada are jubilant, said retired Canadian Maj.-Gen. Denis Thompson. But those who remain are “extremely frustrated.”

“Many of them have applied … and have not heard back,” said Thompson, a former commander of NATO’s Task Force Kandahar.

“We have no idea beyond the existing processes how the government intends to tackle this problem, and it’s frustrating because we’re trying to communicate and assist these people inside of Afghanistan so they can navigate the government’s current processes, which are, to say the least, not simple and certainly not evident to somebody who’s trying to link in from an overseas location.”

Sean Fraser, Canada’s minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship told reporters in Ottawa Wednesday the refugee crisis in Afghanistan is posing difficult challenges.

He said the government doesn’t have people on the ground who are able to refer refugees into its programs, and it’s dealing with the Taliban, a listed terrorist group in Canada.

As a result, he estimated it could take two years to bring in 40,000 Afghan refugees.

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However, the government is working quickly to fulfill its promise, he said.

“Last week … 243 people arrived at Pearson (International Airport) … We’re going to have about 520 this week arriving (and) we are going to see that regular pacing,” Fraser said.

“It’s going to take a bit of time to get things right, but we are going to make good on our commitment to bring 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada.”

Looking ahead, Maj.-Gen Fraser hopes the committee gets the government to better its processes so that more Afghans can come to Canada quicker.

Officials with the Conservative and NDP parties told Global News they will work with the committee to do just that.

“These are good people in Afghanistan,” Fraser said.

“Do the proper due diligence on them, and let’s give them hope and opportunity you and I take for granted.”

—With files from Amanda Connolly, Stewart Bell and The Canadian Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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