What IRCC Is, Is Not, and Cannot do for the People of Afghanistan

by Ronalee Carey Law

September 2021

If you tried to contact the IRCC Client Support Centre these past weeks, you likely received a message that a high volume of enquiries related to the crisis in Afghanistan has required a 'shift in resources.'  Webform responses state that no reply will be sent unless your query is on a list of those considered 'priority.’

Shortly after the crisis in Afghanistan erupted, the Canadian government announced that it would resettle 20,000 vulnerable Afghan nationals to Canada.  It created two programs:

  • A special immigration program for those who had 'assisted the Government of Canada,' including interpreters and former Embassy staff. Applicants are permitted to apply directly to the program through an email address and do not have to be outside of Afghanistan.
  • A special humanitarian program to resettle vulnerable individuals, including women leaders, human rights advocates, persecuted religious minorities, LGBTI individuals, and journalists and people who assisted Canadian journalists. Applicants must be outside of Afghanistan and be designated as a refugee by the UNHCR or another designated referral organization. They will be resettled as either government or privately sponsored refugees.

The program to get interpreters and other individuals out of Afghanistan was limited by the Canadian military's decision not to send troops to assist those trying to get to the Kabul airport's secure area.  In this riveting podcast, you can listen to how the Globe and Mail assisted two of its interpreters to get to the airport with the help of soldiers from Ukraine. 

The special humanitarian program is a great start, but there are 2.6 million registered Afghan refugees in countries such as Pakistan and Iran.  And with the influx of individuals to neighbouring countries, UNHCR and other designated referral organizations will be hard-pressed to register all those in need of protection. 

Outside of the special immigration program for those who had assisted the government of Canada, IRCC does not have the mandate to help those still in Afghanistan.  By definition, a 'refugee' is someone who is outside of their country of nationality.  This definition is set out in the United Nation's 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.  The UN's definition of a refugee is incorporated into section 96 of Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.  Groups such as the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program are hopeful that IRCC will create an expanded program to help those in and outside Afghanistan and are gearing up to be ready to help.  Dropping the requirement to have UNHCR status was done during the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015.

Concerning its regular immigration programs, in a program delivery update, Special measures for Afghanistan, IRCC mandated that the following types of applications will receive priority processing:

  • Visitor visa and sponsorship applications for immediate family members (spouses/partners, dependent children) of Afghan citizens or permanent residents
  • Protected persons applications for permanent residence for Afghan citizens where a spouse or children are residing outside of Canada
  • Dependents of resettled Afghan refugees

Thus, Canada is not providing priority processing to Afghan citizens who do not have a spouse or a parent in Canada.   

The Canadian Association of Refugees Lawyers has called on the Canadian government to issue temporary resident permits to allow family members to travel to Canada immediately.

I have received many inquiries from those wanting to help friends or family members, including aid workers in Afghanistan, resettled refugees in Canada, U.S. immigration lawyers, and members of the Canadian judiciary.  I have also heard of many Canadians wishing to sponsor Afghan refugees.  The will is there; there need only be the means.