‘A section of Sikhs in Kabul believe refugee status in Canada will provide them a better future’
An outreach from the Canadian government towards the Sikhs of Afghanistan has jeopardised India’s ongoing operation to evacuate stranded people, said a civil society leader who has been closely associated with the ongoing airlift operation. Vikramjit Singh Sahney, entrepreneur and chairman of Sun Foundation, who has been coordinating the evacuation process from Kabul, said the window for evacuation is fast shrinking and the Canadian attempt to take Sikhs out of Afghanistan has put the Indian initiative at risk.
“At least 210 Sikhs remain in Kabul and they need to be evacuated as soon as possible because the Taliban has warned that this evacuation cannot continue forever. In this condition, a part of the group has moved out of the local gurudwara and gone into the refugee centre run by Canada, which is creating a lot of problems for smooth coordination of the difficult work,” said Mr. Sahney over phone from Dubai.
He said that a section of the Sikhs in Kabul have come to believe that refugee status in Canada will provide them a better future and they have been demanding evacuation to Canada. He also said that India, despite best efforts, has not been able to fly as many flights as required in the difficult conditions at the Kabul airport, and that it urgently needs to increase number of flights to complete evacuation before the end of August.
“However, we argued that they should come to India first and our civil society organisations can provide them everything that they require for a comfortable life,” Mr. Sahney said.
The Sun Foundation has been active in philanthropy for several years and evacuated 500 Sikhs from Kabul in 2020, after an attack on the gurudwara in Kabul that was blamed on the Haqqani Network. Sun Foundation, along with other like-minded entrepreneurs, has been running an enterprise centred around the Afghan gurudwara in Kabul’s Mahavir Nagar locality. The facility aims at providing education and skills for the displaced Sikhs of Afghanistan.
“The Sikhs of Afghanistan used to be prosperous as they were occupied in the dry fruits business and other such export-oriented activities. But now it’s not possible for them to stay there because of the Taliban and that’s why we are making an all out effort to bring them to India, but this sudden initiative from the Canadian government has created a confused situation in Kabul which has little security of life at present,” Mr. Sahney said.
Ottawa has a liberal policy towards people from conflict zones who are willing to migrate to Canada as refugees. Canada also provides generous social welfare services for refugees, which makes it an attractive destination. India had taken the lead in evacuating Sikhs from Afghanistan while the Canadian initiative has taken off a little late, perhaps indicating that Ottawa, which has been warm towards Afghan refugees in general, was not expecting Sikh refugees to pour out from Afghanistan.
Mr. Sahney pointed out that apart from the Sikhs, there are around 500 more Indians stuck in Kabul and nearby areas, who are eager to get out before the Taliban forms government.
India on Tuesday urged the international community to step forward to address the humanitarian challenge that is facing Afghanistan and prevent the country from becoming a safe haven of terrorists. In a statement, Indramani Pandey, Permanent Representative of India at the UN Human Rights Council said, “We all are concerned about the increasing violations of fundamental rights of Afghans. We stand ready to assist the people of Afghanistan in fulfilling their aspirations. We also hope that there is an inclusive and broad-based dispensation which represents all sections of Afghan society. The voices of Afghan women, aspirations of Afghan children and rights of Afghan minorities must be respected,” said Mr. Pandey.