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, the federal Conservatives are asking why the same urgency isn’t being attached to a promise to bring 40,000 Afghans to Canada.
By the end of this week, about 4,500 refugees from Afghanistan will have been brought here, the federal government said Tuesday. Data posted on the Department of Immigration website suggests most of them are part of a program for those with direct ties to Canada, while more than 400 others arrived under a separate humanitarian program.
On Tuesday, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told the House of Commons that Afghan refugees are continuing to arrive in Canada.
But thousands of applications remain in the queue, and many of the applicants remain trapped in Afghanistan despite the efforts of private organizations to find them safe passage out of the country while they await resettlement.
Some of those who did escape 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 as they await final approval of their paperwork.
All of this, the 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 last summer’s election.
“We all saw the images of people running down runways, families desperate to get out of Afghanistan, and women bristling with the fear of repression coming with the return of the Taliban,” Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Tuesday in putting forward the motion.
“These images are etched in our minds, and Parliament must now do the work that the election prevented us from doing at the time.”
In debate on the motion Tuesday, the Liberals agreed that what happened could be studied, but not by a special committee when regular ones would suffice.
They also raised concerns that the demands put forward by the Conservatives for documents and other evidence would overburden the civil service at a time when it should be focused on meeting Canada’s commitments to resettling Afghans.
The Tories also turned the issue into their dominant line of attack during question period, where Trudeau pushed back against accusations from O’Toole that he put the government’s self-interest ahead of the crisis in Afghanistan.
Canada will honour its promises, he said. “This is the work we’re continuing to do because Canadians expect it.”
Retired major-general Denis Thompson, who once commanded Canada’s troops in Afghanistan, said he welcomes the idea of a special committee because he believes more pressure must be placed on the government to honour its promise.
But what he and other groups now involved in resettlement want more is a plan for the months ahead, with a point person clearly named to lead it, much like the program Ottawa ran for Syrian refugees.
Winter is approaching in Afghanistan and warning bells are going off now about a looming humanitarian crisis in the country.
“It’s time to get on the horse and ride it hard,” Thompson said. “People are suffering.”
A vote on whether to set up the committee could come as early as Wednesday.
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