A group of Canadians with loved ones in Afghanistan wants to make the plight of Afghan citizens an issue in the federal election campaign.
The Canadian Campaign for Afghan Peace, which has the support of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, is urging Ottawa to do more to support Afghanistan, calling on all political parties to state their position on the humanitarian crisis.
The group wants Afghanistan to remain on the agenda of the Sept. 20 federal election.
"We all have family back home. We are really concerned about our families," said Khalidha Nasiri, executive director of the Afghan Youth Engagement and Development Initiative (AYEDI), a non-partisan, grassroots organization that is leading the campaign.
"It's personal for all of us. We think that everyone deserves opportunity and everyone deserves human rights. The people of Afghanistan have an unclear future. They need help."
4 demands outlined in letter
Nasiri said the campaign is centred on an open letter written by the group that outlines four demands, which were developed by activists, experts and advocates.
The group wants Canada to:
Expand the Afghan resettlement program.
Provide immediate humanitarian assistance and aid.
Engage in diplomacy on the issue of human rights in Afghanistan.
Push for the rights of girls, women, ethnic and religious minorities to be respected.
The Canadian government has identified about 6,000 people eligible for resettlement who are currently in Afghanistan. It said on Saturday it has processed about half of those applications.
Canada expects to resettle a total of about 20,000 vulnerable Afghans, including vulnerable Afghan nationals outside the country.
The campaign comes after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last weekend.
On Saturday, federal officials said the situation in Afghanistan remains "tenuous, chaotic and desperate." A Canadian military plane transported 106 more Afghans from the Kabul airport on Friday and took them to a safe third country, officials said. It was the second Canadian flight from Kabul since the Afghan government fell to the Taliban.
'All that is needed is the willpower'
"The full-scale crisis occurring in Afghanistan is a humanitarian emergency that requires an exceptional and time-sensitive response," the Canadian Campaign for Afghan Peace writes in an open letter. "The Taliban cannot be trusted to respect human rights and the rule of law. We appreciate that Canada is a global champion in promoting peace, development, and human rights around the world," the group writes in an open letter.
"Canada can make an impact right now. All that is needed is the willpower."
With the help of a website, individual Canadians can send emails to "key decision-makers" from each political party running candidates in the election and urge them to meet the group's demands.
The group is also trying to educate people on Canada's former military mission in Afghanistan. Canada deployed thousands of soldiers to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014. A total of 158 Canadian Armed Forces members and one journalist died during the mission in Afghanistan.
Singh, in a virtual meeting on Zoom with the group on Tuesday, endorsed the demands in the open letter.
Canadian flights will continue for as long as conditions on the ground in Kabul permit. We will do everything we can to evacuate as many people as possible. - Harjit Sajjan
In a tweet, he said: "My heart shattered into a million pieces watching the plight of Afghanistan. Last night I spoke with the Canadian Campaign for Afghan Peace — I stand with their call for Canada to do more. We must preserve the rights of girls, women, and ethnic and religious minorities."
Harjit Sajjan, Liberal candidate for Vancouver South and the national defence minister, provided an update on Afghanistan on Saturday, saying the federal government is doing what it can to help people leave the country.
"Our Canadian Forces are working hard on the ground to get Canadians and eligible Afghans onto planes," he said on Twitter.
"I want to be clear: Canadian flights will continue for as long as conditions on the ground in Kabul permit. We will do everything we can to evacuate as many people as possible."
The following organizations have also endorsed the open letter:
Afghanistan Human Rights Commission.
Afghan Women's Organization.
Canadian Council of Muslim Women.
Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.
South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario.
Afghans Reviving Cultural Heritage Canada.
Afghan Rising Magazine.
The School Bag Project.