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8 months later, Afghans stuck in Islamabad may finally have a way to Canada

The Pakistani government’s decision to grant safe passage to Afghans fleeing the Taliban should help them enter Canada faster, Canadian immigration officials have said, although there is still no timetable for the when a group of over 40 families who have been waiting in Islamabad for months will arrive in Canada.

“I want an answer, when will this happen? What does Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada want us to do?” Asad Ali Afghan asked from his apartment in the Pakistani capital.

Afghan lives in Islamabad with six members of his family since most of them crossed the border with only their Afghan national identity papers because they did not have a passport. A former Canadian Army interpreter, Afghan fled Kandahar after his country fell to the Taliban.

For the past eight months, he and several other Afghan families in Islamabad, who do not have Pakistani visas or Afghan passports, have gone into hiding, barely leaving their cramped apartments or hotel rooms.

“It’s a very risky area,” Afghan said of Islamabad. “If the police catch you, they will say you entered illegally because you don’t have a passport or visa,” he said, adding that asylum seekers risk being arrested.

Afghan has already passed the security check required to come to Canada. The same goes for most other families in Pakistan awaiting passage to Canada, he said.

He showed CBC News correspondence from Global Affairs Canada’s Islamabad Migration Office, dated June 3, in which a Canadian government official wrote: “Due to the lack of legal status in Pakistan, you and your family will not be allowed to legally travel from Pakistan to Canada.”

CBC News also saw emails sent to eleven other families speaking the same language from the Government of Canada, spanning from February to mid-June, indicating that Pakistan was obstructing further travel to Canada due to their lack of status. legal. .

The same memos also cited this lack of status as a barrier for applicants to receive financial assistance from the United Nations International Organization for Migration while they wait. Families say they left Afghanistan with very little money and are struggling to survive.

Afghan refugees who supported the Canadian mission in Afghanistan prepare to board buses after arriving in Canada, at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport in August last year. (MCpl Geneviève Lapointe/Canadian Forces Combat Camera/Canadian Armed Forces Photo/Reuters)

On June 9, the Pakistani government issued a directive calling for “safe passage…by land and air for vulnerable Afghans bound for third countries on a case-by-case basis, in coordination with recipient third countries”, an executive order which is valid until August 8th.

CBC News has requested an interview with Pakistan’s high commissioner in Ottawa to find out exactly how this directive might apply to Afghan families in Islamabad.

Zaheer A. Janjua was unavailable, but in a statement, his office said the Pakistani government would issue 30-day transit visas to Afghan citizens within 24 hours, which would help them complete the paperwork for the continuation of the journey.

“Countries that had granted immigration to Afghan citizens could apply for transit visas in Pakistan,” he added.

Confusion around the immigration process

However, this news comes too late for Jamil Ahmad Noori, a former technical support team worker working for the Canadian Armed Forces in Kandahar.

He and his relatives, including his elderly father Painda Mohammad Noori, a retired schoolteacher, fled to Islamabad in November 2021.

On June 10, Painda Mohammad Noori began to feel unwell, stressed by the uncertain situation of his family.

His son rushed him to hospital, but due to a lack of Pakistani documents he was denied access until health workers saw that his situation was an emergency. , Jamil Ahmad Noori told CBC News through an interpreter.

“He was confused about this process,” recalls Noori. “He was praying for help from Allah.” Painda Mohammad Noori died of cardiac arrest that night.

Good news for Afghans waiting: Immigration Canada

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told CBC News Pakistan that Pakistan’s decision to grant safe passage to Afghans fleeing the Taliban is good news for those still waiting to leave Afghanistan to come to Canada. , and those from Islamabad whose travel to Canada has already been approved.

“Thousands of lives could be saved through this agreement,” Fraser said. “It has been a considerable period of time for the Pakistani government to allow those destined for Canada to pass through Pakistan.”

Fraser said he expects two charter flights from Pakistan to arrive in Canada by the end of the month, although it is unclear whether some or all of the approximately 40 families currently in Islamabad can take them on.

“It will depend on each case, the destination of the charters, the destination of the person,” he said.

8 months later, Afghans stuck in Islamabad may finally have a way to Canada
Painda Mohammad Noori, a former schoolteacher, died of a heart attack in Pakistan as his family waited for news in Islamabad about when they could travel to Canada. (Submitted/Jamil Ahmad Noori)

As for financial compensation, Fraser said his office is still working out what the Pakistan deal might mean for people seeking help from the United Nations International Organization for Migration. .

Eleven Canadian government flights have brought Afghans from Pakistan to Canada in recent months, but they have generally been filled with people who had documents that legally allow them to be in Pakistan.

A statement from Fraser’s office also said Immigration Canada is in contact with people still in Afghanistan to let them know that Ottawa can help facilitate travel to Pakistan.

Canada has settled more than 16,000 Afghans since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban through special immigration measures for former Canadian Armed Forces or Canadian government employees and their families, as well as vulnerable Afghans.

He promised to bring a total of 40,000 Afghans to Canada through these measures and encourages others to apply through regular Immigration Canada channels.

Last week, the Toronto Star reported that the government was almost done allocating the special places.