Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good evening, respected colleagues.
I am pleased to be joining you today.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to speak to the terrible situation in Afghanistan.
The Afghan people have endured decades of conflicts and instability, and it would be hard to overstate the difficulties they have been dealing with since the Taliban took power.
Although I was not the Minister of Foreign Affairs when Kabul fell, I can tell you that my predecessor and all members of government, including our public servants at Global Affairs Canada, invested tremendous efforts in an extremely difficult situation to evacuate Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their families, as well as Afghans.
Those efforts continue to this day. My colleague Minister Sean Fraser talked to you about this in detail when he appeared last week. By the way, I would like to commend him on his hard work in this very important file.
I will start with the evacuation. The period leading up to the fall of Kabul last summer was a time of growing insecurity and uncertainty. By mid-July, a full month before the evacuation, all remaining allied military and intelligence assets in Afghanistan were confined to Kabul. Canada's embassy staff were also preparing for the prospect of a temporary closure of our mission in Kabul, as the Taliban moved towards the capital.
I want to underline the complexity and challenges of this task and the work that our foreign service, immigration and Canadian Armed Forces personnel undertook to make it possible. In July and into August, Canada implemented an immigration program for Afghans who were most at risk and undertook a large-scale evacuation.
We want to thank Afghanistan's neighbouring countries, such as Pakistan, Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar, for their support in welcoming the refugees. We remain in close contact with allies and partners in the region to help get as many people out as possible.
While recognizing the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, our government committed to resettle at least 40,000 Afghan refugees through special immigration measures. Interest in those programs has been unprecedented. So far, we have welcomed over 12,000 Afghan refugees, and more flights are arriving every week.
You have heard from witnesses who appeared before your committee that it is not easy to get people out of Afghanistan. Among the most difficult obstacles to overcome are the inability to find safe, secure and reliable ways to leave the country, the lack of stability in the country and exit requirements that are constantly changing at checkpoints and international crossings. We are working with local partners and neighbouring countries to overcome those obstacles and find solutions for Afghans who want to come to Canada.
Before the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan's humanitarian situation was among the world's worst. The Taliban takeover has only worsened the situation. It threatens to wipe away decades of progress. Afghanistan is today on the brink of universal poverty. We are particularly concerned about the growing food insecurity throughout the country and the backsliding of women's and girls' rights. My colleague, Minister Sajjan, is working hard to ensure that Canada is supporting humanitarian partners who are providing life-saving assistance in Afghanistan.
So far this year, Canada has committed more than $143 million in humanitarian assistance to help people in Afghanistan and Afghans in neighbouring countries. We'll continue to call on the Taliban to ensure that aid workers, including women, have unimpeded access to those in need.
I now want to speak to an issue that is very close to my heart.
While we continue to press the Taliban to respect international humanitarian law and human rights, particularly the rights of women and targeted communities, we have seen a significant step backwards in recent months. The situation that Afghans are facing, and particularly these vulnerable groups, is absolutely terrible. We're deeply concerned by the growing reports of violence and human rights abuses. Civilians, journalists, human rights defenders, government employees and former members of the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces are also being targeted.
We continue to call on the Taliban to honour its promise of amnesty. I cannot overstate our condemnation of the Taliban's decision to reverse their commitment on allowing all girls to return to school at the secondary level. Because of their actions, prospects for a better life are being denied to girls. Access to education is a human right to which every woman and every girl is entitled. Canada has been an advocate for a coordinated effort by the international community to pressure the Taliban to uphold human rights.
We're also exploring how to concretely continue our support to Afghan women and Afghan human rights defenders.
I've talked to David Sproule, our special envoy to Afghanistan. I've raised this matter with my counterparts across the globe, including Tony Blinken of the United States, many times, but also to the European Union, Germany, the Netherlands, Indonesia, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, Pakistan, Norway, Finland and Sweden. My deputy minister has also travelled to Pakistan, Qatar and Kuwait.
Obviously we've raised this, as a country, at the UN. In this area, Canada welcomes the strong human rights mandate of the UN mission to Afghanistan, following the Security Council's renewal of the mission on March 17. We also welcomed the appointment of Richard Bennett as the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan.
The Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan has had profound implications for regional stability and for global security. The Taliban is a listed—