Santbir Singh: Canadian Sikh MPs Have Failed Afghan Sikhs
"And yet, prominent Canadian Sikh MPs, especially ministers past and present, who have the ear of Justin Trudeau, have fallen incredibly short in helping their brethren."
Santbir Singh Sarkar-Daman
June 20, 2022 | 3.5 mins. read | Opinion
On the morning of June 18, 2022, there was a terrorist attack on the only remaining Gurdwara of Kabul. The last place in Afghanistan the local Sikh community still came together. This followed a brutal attack that occurred two years ago when twenty-five were killed by ISIS terrorists, which had come after a suicide bombing in 2018 that wiped out most of the community’s leadership, which was travelling to meet the Afghan president at the time.
The Sikh community of Canada, specifically the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation (MSBF) and the World Sikh Organization (WSO) have desperately been trying to bring the remaining Afghan Sikhs to Canada, including 900 Afghan Sikhs who have now fled to India since 2018.
The Canadian Sikh community has agreed to pay for all the expenses of the refugees, including their housing and accommodations, in what is called a private sponsorship. In fact, since 2015, 200 Afghan Sikhs have managed to be brought to Canada, and all of their expenses were paid for by the Sikh community through a collaboration between MSBF and the WSO. This has taken approximately seven years of hard work, bureaucratic nightmare, and navigating government red tape. It does not have to be this hard. In that same time, for comparison’s sake, about 300 cats and dogs from Afghanistan have been saved and brought to Canada.
This means that these Sikh refugees literally cost the Canadian government nothing. All that was ever asked of Canada was to expedite the process for all Afghan Sikhs wishing to flee. A request with precedent, but has been ignored in this case as the government has dragged their feet for years, making excuses while the lives of these Sikhs are in grave danger and more have been killed in Afghanistan.
One of the expectations of electing Sikhs to the House of Commons was that Sikh MPs would unapologetically stand up and speak up for the rights of Sikhs - in particular, Sikhs MPs part of the governing Liberal Party of Canada.
The reality of electing Sikh MPs has been a far more mixed bag. They have generally fallen silent on issues that face the Sikh community. Everything from assisting Sikhs in dealing with pandemic restrictions, to speaking up about India’s historic and ongoing oppression of Sikhs, some of the most high-profile Sikh MPs have been completely silent.
One might ask, should MPs not just represent their constituents and not speak up for their religious or ethnic communities? In actuality, MPs serve a variety of purposes, and speaking up for their communities is a normal and expected part of the job of elected officials.
Let me give two recent examples just to demonstrate how much our Sikh Liberal MPs have failed us, while MPs for other communities stand up for their people.
Just last month in May of 2022, Gary Anandasangaree, a Tamil MP from Scarborough Ontario, helped push through a motion recognizing Sri Lanka’s genocide of Tamils. Compare that to the fact Prime Minister Trudeau has not even put out a 1984 statement since coming into power in 2015, something he use to do when in opposition, however. Often, many of our very own Sikh MPs have not even recognized 1984 over the years.
In a more prominent example, and one that gives us a direct parallel to the plight of Afghan Sikhs, is the case of Ukrainian refugees. Our Deputy Prime Minister, Christia Freeland, who is of Ukrainian origin, has strongly pushed for the refugee applications of Ukranians caught in Russia’s invasion to be expedited. There has been no pushback to the efforts of Freeland and her efforts have been successful, with the applications of Ukrainian refugees having been processed in record time. It goes without saying that when Sikhs previously asked for a similar special program for Afghan Sikhs over the past seven years they were told by government officials and decision-makers that it was impossible. We now know that was a blatant lie.
Afghan Sikhs are literally dying in Afghanistan or suffering amidst bureaucratic limbo in India. They do not have full rights or access to basic services in India as refugees. They have been waiting for years for their applications to Canada to be processed. Canadian Sikhs are willing to pay for all the expenses of these refugees, all we need is the barest amount of political will to save their lives.
The MSBF and the WSO have handled all of the logistics involved. Canada has set up special programs for refugees from Syria and Tibet in the past and we have seen just how quickly they managed to build an entirely new refugee program for Ukrainians. And yet, prominent Canadian Sikh MPs, especially ministers past and present, who have the ear of Justin Trudeau, have fallen incredibly short in helping their brethren.
Santbir Singh Sarkar-Daman is a PhD student at York University. His research interests are in Sikh social activism, history and decolonizing the Sikh tradition. He can be found on Instagram @santbir.singh
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