OTTAWA (AP) — The Canadian government said Friday it will fast-track resettlement of potentially thousands of Afghans who have worked with Canada over the past 20 years but offered few details of who will be eligible or when people now in danger from the Taliban will start arriving.
The government has been facing pressure from Canadian veterans worried that Afghans who supported them and their families will face arrest and even death at the hands of the Taliban.
“For the safety and security of the Afghans as well as the Canadian teams who are already on the ground, we have to safeguard the precise details of how this operation will be carried out, as well as exactly when it will begin,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.
The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan emboldened the Taliban to take parts of the country. The captured territory includes parts of the southern province of Kandahar, where the Canadian military spent the longest amount of time during its 13-year mission in the country.
Canada lost 158 soldiers and seven civilians in Afghanistan before the military was withdrawn in 2014, most of them to hostile action by the Taliban.
Mendicino said the government already has teams on the ground working to identify people who are at risk for having worked with Canada and immigration officials will fast-track applications for asylum from those who qualify.
“Our focus is on those who have had a significant and enduring relationship with the government of Canada,” he said.
Mendicino also encouraged Afghans now living in Canada to reach out to his office directly if they feel their families back at home are at risk and eligible.
Canada previously resettled about 800 Afghan nationals and their families in two separate programs launched in 2008 and 2012, before the end of the military mission.
Mendicino said “several thousand” people could be eligible.
Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said for security reasons he couldn’t say how the refugees will get to Canada or if the Canadian government is seeking space on evacuation flights planned by the U.S. and other allies.
“I can assure you that we are involved with the planning the logistics and security of how this will take place,” he said.