By Moira Warburton
(Reuters) - Canada would consider taking in additional Afghan refugees on behalf of the United States or other allies if asked to do so, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said on Friday.
"We should keep the door open to all possibilities," Mendicino said in an interview.
"If there were Afghans who had assisted coalition partners during the mission that also met the criteria for our humanitarian resettlement program, I think we should be prepared to consider such an arrangement," the minister said.
Canada is part of a coalition of countries frantically trying to evacuate Afghan citizens who supported Western missions in Afghanistan over the years, amidst a Taliban takeover of the country that occurred in days, rather than months as expected.
Canada withdrew the bulk of its troops from Afghanistan in 2011, but participated in a NATO mission to train the Afghan military until 2014.
Helping out Afghans who supported Canada's past missions has become a hot political topic ahead of the Sept. 20 election, called https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canadian-pm-trudeau-announces-federal-election-will-be-held-sept-20-2021-08-15 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday.
The Canadian Armed Forces flew 175 vulnerable Afghans and 13 foreign nationals out of Kabul late on Thursday, and evacuations "are scheduled to continue on a regular basis so long as the security situation permits," according to a statement.
Canada has evacuated nearly 1,000 vulnerable Afghan nationals to date, the statement said.
Evacuation flights could include families of refugees already living in Canada https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/afghan-activists-canada-frantic-get-families-out-after-years-waiting-2021-08-18 whose resettlement has so far been held up by bureaucracy, Mendicino said.
The independent tribunal that assesses asylum claims in Canada has agreed to expedite Afghan refugee applications, a crucial step for asylum claimants to reunite with their families, the minister said.
Separately, last week Canada committed to resettling 20,000 Afghan refugees who have already fled the country, and on Friday Mendicino said the government was keeping "an open mind" about potentially increasing that number.
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; editing by Grant McCool)