The Taliban’s killing of a 10-year-old girl who was waiting to come to Canada should “shock the conscience of every Canadian,” Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said Friday as he renewed the government’s commitment to resettling Afghan refugees.
The shooting death was “unconscionable and it is the kind of thing that motivates us to do more and more,” the minister told reporters. “And we will make good on our commitment to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees, no matter what it takes.”
The minister was responding to news about Nazifa, a Grade 6 student killed on the night of Dec. 10 when the Taliban opened fire on a vehicle that had passed through a checkpoint in Kandahar City.
Her father Bashir worked as a carpenter for the Canadian Forces until 2011. The family was approved to immigrate to Canada, but had been unable to leave Afghanistan because the government has halted evacuation efforts.
They were in Kandahar to apply for Afghan passports so they could attempt to travel to neighbouring Pakistan, and fly from there to Canada, when Nazifa was shot while returning from a wedding, her family said.
The killing has highlighted the plight of thousands of Afghans who are living in fear of the Taliban because their families worked for the Canadian Forces, but who have no way to flee.
To date, less than 4,000 Afghans have arrived in Canada under a resettlement program for former interpreters and others who worked for Canada during the military mission in Afghanistan.
“We need to focus on finding a viable solution within Afghanistan to get people out,” said Wendy Long of the group Afghan Interpreters.
She said the government had not evacuated any Afghans since flights ended in August, and that those arriving in Canada were coming from third countries.
The Conservatives said a parliamentary committee set up last week to examine the government’s handling of the Afghan crisis would investigate why the family had been unable to leave the country.
Meanwhile, the NDP said the federal government had “failed this family and countless others they left behind,” adding that the promise to resettle 40,000 Afghans remained 90 per cent unfulfilled, with the Liberals saying it could take two years to reach that goal.
“People that this government abandoned in Afghanistan don’t have two years,” the party said in a statement that urged the government to “work with other countries to pressure the Taliban in providing safe passage and reduce bureaucratic barriers to bring Afghans to safety”
Speaking to reporters, the minister blamed the Taliban for Nazifa’s death.
“It’s this kind of brutality by a recognized terrorist entity in Canadian law that justified in part our decision to welcome 40,000 Afghan refugees,” Fraser said.
He tempered what he said were expectations that Canada could resettle Afghans as it had Syrian refugees, many of whom were already in third countries, where they could be processed and put on flights to Canada.
“None of those advantages exists in Afghanistan,” he said. “We’re dealing with a territory that’s been seized by, as I said, the Taliban, a terrorist entity. We’re dealing with a complete lack of access to a working airport.”
“If they wanted to help us, which they don’t, I don’t think they’d be very good at it,” he said of the Taliban.
The Taliban swept into power in August when the Afghan government collapsed amid a U.S. military withdrawal.
Although the Taliban has vowed not to retaliate against its former enemies, the United Nations, human rights groups and western governments have accused the militants of targeting former members of the Afghan military.
During the Afghan conflict, the Taliban also killed scores of Afghans who worked for the international coalition forces.
Some who worked for the Canada Forces said the Taliban was distributing letters telling them to appear before the Islamic Courts.
The Canadian veterans group Aman Lara confirmed that Nazifa’s family was among those it was trying to help evacuate from Afghanistan, and said the death showed the risks resulting from delays in Afghan resettlement efforts.
The group called on the government to resolve the “log jams” in evacuations through flights and co-operation with neighbouring countries so refugees could cross land borders.
“We need to continue this with a renewed urgency so this does not happen again,” spokesperson Kynan Walper said.