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Canada sought use of European Union compound in Kabul for fingerprinting, reneged

OTTAWA -

Canada requested use of the European Union's compound in Kabul to help with tasks such as fingerprinting for those fleeing Afghanistan, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly made the request on Jan. 20, 2022, according to documents obtained through an access-to-information request.

"Minister Joly asked EU High Representative (Josep) Borrell about the possibility for Canada to co-locate with the EU in Kabul, in order to conduct biometric screening from their premises," reads a July 2022 briefing note.

The document says the EU replied in early April 2022, offering space for two Canadian officials in the compound "on the condition that biometric screening be performed in a third location managed by the Government of Canada."

It notes that one month later, senior bureaucrats for Global Affairs Canada "determined that it would be very difficulty to proceed with the EU offer."

That may be because there are issues for Afghans trying to access the Kabul compound since the Taliban takeover.

But as of June 2022, the briefing note states "we are still assessing the legal, duty-of-care and operational implications of this offer," adding there are "significant legal constraints that limit Canada's ability to re-establish any kind of presence in Kabul."

The Department of Global Affairs would not say whether it ended up stationing anybody at the EU compound.

"We do not discuss operational details of our missions abroad for security reasons," spokeswoman Patricia Skinner wrote.

"Canada remains committed to Afghanistan and the Afghan people, and we will continue to do all that we can to support them."

The Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship would not say if Ottawa declined or accepted the offer, or whether it still stands.

"For operational security reasons, we are unable to provide specific information," wrote spokesman Matthew Krupovich.

He said the government's efforts to resettle people fleeing the country have been hindered by entry and exit requirements by both the Taliban and neighbouring countries.

"Canada's lack of military, diplomatic and overall presence in Afghanistan has also presented challenges in how we collect and verify the information of applicants who remain in their country, but Canada continues to explore options."

The EU delegation in Ottawa did not respond to requests for comment.

Last fall, media reports revealed Canada had been in regular talks with the Taliban, starting just weeks after it took over Afghanistan in August 2021.

The Trudeau government insisted it will not recognize the Taliban as the country's government, but said Canadian diplomats joined Western peers in discussions with Taliban officials in Qatar in order to advocate for girls' education.

Some regional experts have proposed that Western allies launch a multi-country representative office in lieu of formal embassies in Afghanistan, to keep track of the human rights situation in the country.

 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2023.

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