Are the Failures of Canadian Government and NGOs Imperiling Sikh and Hindu Minorities in Afghanistan
By Shamsher Singh, Toronto, Canada @shershamvirk
With the wounding up of evacuations in Afghanistan, we pause to wonder why conscientious global citizens in the Canadian government and its NGOs did not do more to address the urgent humanitarian crisis that minorities in Afghanistan were facing.
According to government officials, the Canadian Government agreed to open its doors to resettle more than 20,000 Afghan citizens from groups that worked with the allies. While this is commendable, it was not enough. Among those most in peril and considered likely targets of the Taliban are women, rights workers, and members of religious minority communities.
Specifically, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau's (PM) actions lacked compassion and resolve. When he should have launched a crisis-operation room in Ottawa on Sunday, August 15, the day the Taliban took control of Kabul, he instead began campaigning for his reelection two years too early. The Canadian Defence Minister, S. Harjit Sajjan, flew to Vancouver to campaign behind the PM when they should have been saving lives. During this crucial time Mr. Trudeau should have been fulfilling his promise to the Sikh community.
The Sikh community waited for action from the PM and his cabinet to bring Sikh and Hindu minorities to Canada and out of danger. A lot was expected of him and he turned his back on Sikhs who supported him when they needed his assistance the most.
Defense Minister Sajjan’s father, Kundan Singh Sajjan, was reportedly an active member of the World Sikh Organization, a Canadian not-for-profit organization (NGO) that has been raising public donations to assist Afghan Sikhs through their #SaveAfghanSikhs campaign.
Minister Sajjan has let down the Sikh community in Canada with half measures. Sikhs need help getting out of Afghanistan but also getting to Canada and there has been hesitancy on the part of the Canadian government to assist and show due reverence to these special cases. In a country where there are currently 18 Sikh MPs, it’s especially abhorrent that so little has been done to help Sikhs in need.
The lessons from this Afghanistan crisis should be learned and Sikhs of Canada must engage in solemn introspection about which political parties they support and who they help get elected. Do the individuals supported by the Sikh-Canadian community have the will to bring Sikh and Hindu minorities to the safe shores of Canada or are they manipulating these communities to obtain votes?
The Canadian media does not publish stories of planes carrying Sikh refugees and landing in Canada from Afghanistan because there aren't many. Instead, in an online newspaper, the President of the Indian World Forum, Puneet Singh Chandhok, mentioned that Hindus and Sikhs ignored the chance to get out of Afghanistan in time when they were offered safe passage to India. However, public donations were gathered, and the pretense of political advocacy was given to these Sikhs and Hindus to come home to their families, friends, and supporters in Canada which hasn’t come to fruition as of yet but dissuaded them from a certain safety. Canada sent only a small number of planes. These only transported those that worked for the governments in the West while Sikhs and Hindus were left to languish.
According to the Economic Times, Sikh not-for-profit organizations (NGOs) assured many desperate people on the ground in Afghanistan that they would assist in evacuating all Afghan Sikhs and Hindus. Many refugees arrived outside Kabul airport but could not gain entry to the airport. Canada made promises to bring these Sikhs and Hindus to Canada but failed.
TSL’s team contacted both WSO and Bhullar Foundation about what efforts have been made to assist the people of Afghanistan and specifically Sikhs and Hindus. We did not receive a response from the Bhullar Foundation. WSO’s Legal Counsel, Balpreet Singh Boparai, replied to our reporter and said “We had called on the Canadian Government to include Sikh and Hindu Afghans in their evacuation plans. The direct evacuations have now ended, and western troops have withdrawn. The situation on the ground continues to develop and we are monitoring it on an ongoing basis. We are in touch with members of the community on the ground who provide us updates. We have never made any fundraising calls or raised funds for the evacuation or relocation of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.”
A review of WSO’s website and social media shows the following:
Above is the screenshot of WSO’s website showing that the NGO was soliciting donations for their #SaveAfghanSikhs campaign, which they appear to limit to advocacy in Canada but advocacy without action to bring these families to Canada is pointless.
The Bhullar Foundation was started by a former member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta- Manmeet Singh Bhullar, and is supported by the WSO. To date, it has brought 20 families to Canada since 2019 compared to the need. In comparison, 44,620 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since November 4, 2015 as per the Government of Canada.
Canadian Sikh and Hindu voters and donors must question why the same could not be done for their families. Bhullar Foundation and WSO have been fundraising to assist Afghan Sikhs. We are hard pressed to find any of their financial reports published just when transparency is needed.
Meanwhile, Vikramjit Singh Sahney, an Indian entrepreneur and chairman of Sun Foundation has been able to coordinate the evacuation of refugees from Afghanistan. In 2020, after an attack on the Gurudwara in Kabul, the Foundation was able to evacuate 500 Sikhs from Kabul.
In the past, Canada, and particularly Ottawa, has provided generous social welfare services for refugees, which makes it an attractive destination for those refugees who are being forced to flee their homes and are seeking a better life for their families. However, in the context of this humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, India has taken the lead in evacuating Sikhs from Afghanistan while the minor Canadian initiative took off late.
Apart from the Sikhs, there are still hundreds of Indians stranded in Kabul and in nearby areas who are desperate to leave Afghanistan. If history is to be believed, what’s happening in that region would likely mean the decimation or assimilation of those ethnic and religious minorities that remain.
The world should stand united to assist the people of Afghanistan to accomplish peaceful self-rule. However, Afghan women, children and Afghan religious and other minorities’ human rights must be protected at all costs and their needs prioritized. Canada is a beacon of democracy and should be a champion for Sikhs and Hindus in need in Afghanistan. The MPs and NGOs who have paid lip service to help can still turn things around and save lives.