Canada on Friday announced that it will be taking in 20,000 vulnerable refugees from Afghanistan, who face a direct threat from the rapid Taliban offensive in recent weeks. Announcing the federal government’s decision to expand a programme to resettle the refugees, Canadian immigration minister Marco Mendicino said the focus will be on those who belong to groups vulnerable to persecution by the Taliban such as women leaders, human rights workers and reporters.
Also Read | India joins other nations to assert govt forced on Afghanistan won’t be recognised
“Canada will build on its earlier special immigration programme to welcome over 20,000 vulnerable Afghan refugees,” Mendicino said. “Our efforts focus on those who are particularly vulnerable, including women leaders.”
The Taliban made rapid advances in Afghanistan this week, toppling six provincial capitals in 24 hours. According to news agencies citing the local media, the insurgents seized both the second and the third biggest cities in the country on Friday, as resistance from government forces crumbled and fears grew that an assault on the capital Kabul could be just days away.
Also Read | These provincial capitals in Afghanistan are now under Taliban control
Kandahar, the economic hub of the south, is now under Taliban control. Herat in the west has also fallen to the hardline Islamist group, reports said.
The Taliban is reported to have been looting people and killing civilians indiscriminately with their offensive taking an especially ruthless turn. As the security situation worsens, the Afghan people are leaving their homes to reach relatively safer places.
The Canadian minister of immigration, refugees, and citizenship said that the country is expeditiously carrying out special resettlement operations to evacuate Afghan nationals who provided critical support to the Canadian mission. The recent expansion to the immigration programme is an addition to the earlier initiative undertaken by the country to welcome the thousands of Afghans who worked for the Canadian government, such as interpreters, embassy workers, and their families.
“Many more Afghan lives are now under increasing threat and many have already fled,” the minister added. He, however, did not provide a timetable for the resettlement programme.
Canada’s defence minister Harjit Sajjan also said that the country has signed an MoU with the Manmeet Singh Bhullar foundation to resettle a group of vulnerable Afghan Sikh and Hindu families out of Afghanistan. “Over the next several months, we will expand this programme to resettle several hundred remaining Sikhs and Hindus,” the minister said.
Also Read | How will India ensure safety of Afghan Hindus, Sikhs from Taliban violence? Govt answers
Several countries, including Spain, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands announced on Friday that they will be withdrawing staff from their respective embassies in Afghanistan, as the fall of Kabul looks more and more likely with each passing day. Canada has said it is monitoring the situation in Afghanistan “very closely” and working with its allies on the ground to protect the Canadian embassy and the staff working there.
(With inputs from agencies)