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Spots nearly full for Canada's special Afghan immigration program

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Nearly a year after the federal government created special immigration measures for Afghans who worked for Canada, less than 3,000 spots remain.

The limited spots is prompting aid organizations to call for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser to expand the program past its 18,000-person limit.

“We need at least 20,000 spots solely for the interpreters and the workers and the locally engaged contractors,” said Amanda Moddejonge, a veteran who worked with Non-Governmental Organization Aman Lara, to help set up safe houses for Afghan’s fleeing the Taliban. “People are literally dying over this already.”

The special immigration program is for interpreters, local embassy staff, or other Afghan nationals employed by the government of Canada during the Canadian Armed Forces mission in Afghanistan from 2001-2014.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says it is still sending out invitations for Afghans to apply for the program, and the 18,000-person commitment is part of the government’s broader promise to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees by the end of 2023.

For the former Afghan employees who do not make the cut for Canada’s special immigration program, the government says other streams like its humanitarian program, or private refugee sponsorship are available.

“You know, the restaurant is open, but there's no more food left, effectively is what they're saying to these individuals,” said NDP Immigration Critic Jenny Kwan. “And that's not good enough.”

Kwan says her party is calling on the government to extend the program to more refugees.

“We cannot abandon them now,” said Kwan. “It would be unconscionable.”

In a statement, Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada says: “Those who have expressed interest in the program and whose connection to Canada has been verified are referred to IRCC by (Global Affairs Canada) or (Department of Defence). Of 18,000 spots available through the program, we have received over 15,000 applications in various stages of processing based on referrals received by GAC and DND. IRCC continues to send out invitations to apply to additional referrals.”

So far, the government has brought 16,645 Afghan refugees to Canada, less than half of its commitment made last September.

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