TORONTO — Canadian veterans helping Afghan refugees and their families escape danger in Afghanistan worry that bureaucracy is keeping them from safety.
Last week, the Canadian government began flying Afghan refugees, including interpreters, embassy workers and other support staff who helped the Canadian military during the Afghanistan war, to Canada as a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan has left them in grave danger.
The Taliban claims to have taken control of more than 80 per cent of Afghanistan, including overtaking another five cities over the weekend. Last week, Hassan Soroosh, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada, described the situation there as “dire.”
It’s unclear how many refugees have since arrived in Canada, but at least two military flights and one charter have landed in the country.
Still, some Canadian veterans working to resettle the Afghan families worry hundreds more will be left to die due to bureaucratic red tape.
“There is too much bureaucracy in the process,” Corey Shelson, a Canadian veteran helping Afghan refugees, told CTV News. “(It’s) a peacetime process that’s being applied to a wartime scenario. If we do not simplify the process, people will get left behind and innocent people will die.”
Last month, the federal government created a special immigration program for Afghan refugees to apply for Canadian transport, but on top of it being criticized as a complicated process, the refugees now need a passport and a PCR COVID-19 test, both of which are expensive and difficult to find.
“There’s been a lot of panic, a lot of pandemonium, a lot of confusion,” said Dave Morrow, a veteran of the Afghanistan war who’s helping to resettle the Afghan refugees.
“To try and get a passport in Kabul right now, you’re looking at months for wait times and potentially thousands of dollars in order to get it done.”
The two Canadian veterans say missing passports and COVID-19 tests left about 20 people stranded at an airport in Afghanistan over the weekend.
In addition to the help from veterans, the Veterans Transition Network has set up a fund to help the refugees once they arrive. The fund aims to support the families with an average of $5,400 per month to help with housing, transportation and a basic living wage.
In a conversation with CTV News, the office of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino said it is working with the Afghan government to resolve the passport issue, adding that there is movement in the right direction.
It’s unclear how many refugees will ultimately be resettled in Canada, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday that the country would bring as “many of them as possible.” The U.S. has pledged to bring 2,500 refugees back.