Humanitarian groups helping Afghan refugees escape the clutches of the Taliban may get a break under a proposed Canadian law which would allow them to operate in Afghanistan without being flagged as supporting terrorist activities.
Since falling to the Taliban in the summer of 2021, a reported 35 million Afghans have been displaced, an estimated 80 per cent of whom are women and children. Roughly one million children are thought to be at risk of starving to death.
Public Safety Canada Minister calls plight of Afghans ‘dire’
“The message delivered by Afghans, aid groups and witnesses before Parliament is clear,” Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has reportedly said.
“The situation in Afghanistan is dire.”
Ottawa has made a commitment to resettle at least 40,000 vulnerable Afghans by the end of this year. So far, Canada has welcomed 28,285 Afghan refugees since August 2021 when the Taliban took over control of Afghanistan.
The latest data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), dated March 9, reveals those refugees include:
- 9,645 under the Special Immigration Measures Program for Afghans;
- 15,675 under Canada’s humanitarian program, and;
- 1,185 under the permanent residence pathway for extended family members of former interpreters in Afghanistan.
But there’s a snag in Canada’s efforts to welcome Afghans who want to flee their homeland.
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, it is currently illegal for any Canadian or person in Canada to make or authorize payments to a terrorist organization.
Humanitarian organizations in Afghanistan flagged as supporting terrorism under existing law
That leaves humanitarian groups hoping to operate in Afghanistan in a bind because the country is currently ruled by a terrorist organization, the Taliban.
“The Taliban, as the de facto authority in Afghanistan, is likely to receive revenue from any payments, such as taxes, import tariffs, airport and administrative fees, which may be necessary to support international assistance and conduct immigration activities,” states Public Safety Canada on its website.
Unable to pay the fees, taxes and tariffs necessary in Afghanistan without contravening the current anti-terrorist financing laws in Canada, many humanitarian groups have simply pulled out of the country.
Ottawa is hoping to fix that situation with Bill C-41.
It was introduced in the House of Commons on March 9 to amend one of the Criminal Code’s anti-terrorist financing offences and allow the delivery of much-needed international assistance, immigration activities, and other assistance in regions controlled by terrorist groups.
Under the proposed changes to the law, Public Safety, Foreign Affairs and the IRCC are to assess applications and ensure proper security reviews are undertaken.
The proposed changes would include:
- requirements for a ministerial review of the regime after five years;
- a provision for information-sharing between departments and agencies for the purpose of a security review that must be conducted before an authorization can be granted;
- the possibility of a judicial review if an authorization is not granted, and;
- protection from disclosure of sensitive information during a judicial review.
Immigration from Afghanistan jumped 177 per cent last year as refugees fled the country
Bill C-41 would allow humanitarian organizations to make payments for:
- local personnel for translation services and form-filling support;
- transportation, such as fuel taxes and airport fees; and
- temporary accommodations and meals inside Afghanistan.
“The amendments would create a new authorization scheme that would allow those that provide humanitarian and other critical assistance, to apply for an authorization that would shield them from the risk of criminal liability,” notes Public Safety Canada.
Immigration from Afghanistan spiked by 177 per cent last year to hit 23,735 new permanent residents from that country as Canada pulled out all the stops to welcome refugees from that country. IRCC data reveals.
That was up 15,165 people from the 8,570 new permanent residents to Canada from Afghanistan in 2021.
The meteoric rise in immigration from Afghanistan is all the more startling when last year’s performance is compared to the immigration level prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2019.
In those three years, immigration from Afghanistan to Canada has soared by 508.6 per cent.