Question Period: Afghan Refugees

By: The Hon. Patricia Bovey

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Could wearing a Canadian flag, Toronto

Hon. Patricia Bovey: Thank you for being with us, minister. My question from Senator Klyne regards the evacuation of interpreters who worked for the Canadian Armed Forces prior to the Taliban seizing control of Afghanistan this past summer.

Canada has faced significant criticism for how it handled the evacuation of those interpreters during the crisis. There is confusion about the process used to determine which employees were evacuated, ongoing concerns for the well-being of those left behind and worries that Canada may have difficulty enlisting the services of interpreters the next time we’re on foreign soil.

Do you share those concerns? What process did your department follow to triage, prioritize and expedite the extraction of Afghan citizens who risked their lives for our Armed Forces?

Hon. Sean Fraser, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: I want to be careful here because I have personal knowledge about some of the things we discussed today. For some of them, I came in after the fact. Nevertheless, I am responsible for the department.

This is a huge opportunity for me to say thank you to all of those who were involved with the evacuation. As a result of the efforts on the ground, thousands of people have been given a second lease on life in Canada. In the middle of a war zone, as you can appreciate, there is absolute chaos. When you’re dealing with a list of terrorist entities seizing control of Kabul at a time when hundreds of thousands of people were seeking to leave, potentially millions, having a rigid process with referral partners and proper screening — as we would through essentially a managed UNHCR initiative — was not possible. Decisions were taken at the time to try to identify anyone who had a connection to Canada to get them on board planes that had limited access to the strip in Kabul to get them out.

Since then, of course, we have been able to put in a more reliable process than you can implement in response to an emergency of that nature to ensure that we continue to see people arrive. We are seeing more people arrive now, with more than 15,500 in Canada and more arriving every week.

The job that the members of my team have done — some of whom are still working with me; some of whom have moved on to other things, the previous minister as well as the department — was nothing short of heroic despite some imperfections along the way. There are no perfect responses in a war zone. However, as a result of the actions of a few Canadians who tried hard to evacuate some of the world’s most vulnerable people in those moments, there are thousands of people who made it to Canada.

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