Canada-bound Afghans left in the dark after two charter flights from Islamabad are cancelled

Two charter flights scheduled to leave Islamabad for Canada carrying Afghan refugees failed to depart Pakistan this week, CBC News has learned.

“That was quite disappointing; to find out that the flight was cancelled,” said Jameel Haqmall, a former Canadian NGO employee who fled Afghanistan in May with his family after months of living in hiding.

“Everything was packed, everyone was in the mood of travelling,” he told CBC News from his hotel room in Islamabad on Wednesday morning.

Then came the tersely worded email from the United Nations International Organization for Migration, listing Haqmall’s name and that of his 23 family members.

“Your scheduled flight to Canada for the 29th is cancelled for the moment. Once we have new schedule, we will give you an update,” it read.

It was the second flight cancelled this week. The first was bound to Saskatoon Monday night, and was also cancelled without any explanation. Passengers arrived to the airport and were distributed boarding passes before being told they had to leave.

No explanation for the cancelled flights were provided to Haqmall or his family by the UN, the government of Pakistan or the Canadian government. Eleven previous flights from Pakistan have brought Afghans to Canada in the last few months.

Tory MP’s comments rile Pakistan

The cancellations come shortly after the Pakistan government expressed outrage over recent comments by Conservative MP Tom Kmiec in the House of Commons.

On June 17 Kmiec questioned the Liberal government over its plan to spend $50,000 for a visit in 2020 by a Pakistani general, Qamar Javed Bajwa.

“General Bajwa has been accused of toppling two governments in Pakistan. The military under his command has been involved in human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings and has links to terrorism groups,” Kmiec said.

On June 23, The Daily Pakistan newspaper reported Pakistan’s foreign office had summoned Canada’s High Commissioner to discuss the remarks.

This Monday, Pakistan’s Defence Minister, Khawaja Asif, slammed the Canadian government in Pakistan’s Parliament, over remarks made by the Calgary Shepard MP.

canada-bound afghans left in the dark after two charter flights from islamabad are cancelled
© Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press Conservative member of Parliament Tom Kmiec told the House of Commons earlier this month that the military under Pakistani general, Qamar Javed Bajwa’s command

“I believe the Canadian lawmaker does not represent his country or people,” Asif said.

It’s not clear whether the diplomatic tensions between the two countries contributed to the flight cancellations. But the dispute comes not long after Pakistan promised to help speed up the process for those fleeing Afghanistan by issuing temporary transit visas to facilitate travel to third countries.

A Canadian government official, who spoke on the condition they not be named because they are not authorized to speak on the subject, said “it’s a risky narrative to give [Kmiec] that much power,” and attributed the cancellations instead to “a lack of communication within the Pakistani government.”

Haqmall said relations between the two countries shouldn’t limit his family’s immigration prospects.

“I hope that the Canadian government can find a solution to this issue as soon as possible,” he said.

Asad Ali Afghan, a former Canadian military interpreter who is in Pakistan with his family awaiting a flight to Canada, said most of the families in Islamabad who smuggled themselves through the Afghanistan-Pakistan border have now obtained legal permission to leave the country, but remain unsure when that will actually happen, now that two flights have been cancelled.

Work with Pakistan ongoing: Ottawa

CBC News reached out to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser but neither addressed the diplomatic row between Ottawa and Islamabad directly, nor did they explain why the flights have been cancelled, but they said they were working on solutions.

“We intend to keep working with Pakistan to find solutions to the issues facing our efforts,” Joly’s spokesperson Adrien Blanchard said in a statement, adding that Pakistan remains “an important geopolitical partner for Canada in South Asia.”

Fraser’s spokesperson, Aidan Strickland, could not provide a timeline for when flights would resume, citing operational safety reasons, but said in a statement that “every step along the way there’s a unique challenge depending on the circumstances,” and the department was focused on moving people quickly and safely.

Asad Ali Afghan, who has been in Islamabad for eight months, told CBC News he could not think of the last time flights out of Pakistan were cancelled or delayed.

Pakistan’s High Commission in Ottawa referred requests for comment to the ministry of the interior in Islamabad, which has yet to respond.

Meanwhile, Kmiec defended his speech in a statement to CBC News, saying “Conservatives will always ensure the Liberal government gets value for its money and isn’t incurring frivolous expenses.”

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Palay-Palay  National ParkAbout PagudpudFive Levels of Aguinid FallsIntroducing San Pascual, MasbateMount Manmanoc ItineraryAdventures in Fortune Island of Nasugbu | LakwatseroNext Level Mobile Photography with Sony Xperia XZ1 | LakwatseroScuba Diving in Siargao: Discovering the Underwater Treasures of Daku Island | LakwatseroAbout Davao CityHow to Get to AndaJanuary: Cebu & IloiloHow to Get to Mines View ParkKamay ni Hesus: Pilgrimage Site in Lucban | LakwatseroPoon Hill: Three Days of Himalayan AdventureCalvary Hill Cemetery of SagadaHow to Get to TambobongMilford SoundTen Things To Do in Sagada: Bucket List for NewbiesDahoyhoy FallsPilot for a Day: The Ultra Light Aircraft Experience | LakwatseroReal Coffee and Tea Cafe of Boracay | LakwatseroGhorepani Poon Hill TrekAbout Maniwaya IslandHow to Get to Binanga FallsPalo Alto Falls of Baras, Rizal | LakwatseroExplore Moscow: Best Things to Do in the City | LakwatseroStairway to HeavenMount Guiting-Guiting Overnight Trek Complete ItineraryCape Melville LighthouseLa Cathedral Café: Restaurant with a View in IntramurosKapurpurawan Rock Formation: White and BeautifulDay Hike ItineraryThe Sandbox at AlvieraHow to go to Mararison IslandA Weekend of Adventures in South Cebu and DumagueteCalayan Island: A Virtual Diary of Our Epic Journey | LakwatseroFaro de Isla Jintotolo (Jintotolo Island Lighthouse)Low’s PeakAbout Taal VolcanoHow to Get to Mag-aso Falls of BoholSamar: Biri Rock Formations Up Close | LakwatseroBonbon BeachIntroducing Jomalig IslandAbout Cotabato CityAbout TabukLeyte Landing Memorial: A Memorial for a Fulfilled Promise | LakwatseroSilyang Bato, Mount MaramiPanimahawa Ridge and Cedar Falls Day Hike ItineraryFun in the World’s Best IslandSample Albay ItinerariesMagpupungko Beach and Tidal Pools6 Tips for Living in the Philippines | LakwatseroDaraga Church: The Nuestra Señora dela Porteria ChurchTulgao Rice TerracesCape Melville Lighthouse (Faro del Cabo Melville)Canyoneering to Kawasan FallsLake FewaLong Weekend: Five-Day Suggested Itineraries in Luzon | LakwatseroAbout CaponesThe Wichcraft Café of Zamboanga City | LakwatseroHow to Get to GuiuanAll-Female FloorHow to Get to Neri’s VilleDiotay’s EateryShort but Sweet Melaka Getaway | LakwatseroHow to Get to Tinuy-An FallsOslob: The Lost Grandeur of Tumalog Falls | LakwatseroIlocos ItineraryDitumabo Falls: The Mother Falls of San Luis, Aurora!Biking in Kalinga: Trek and Bike to TabukParadise Garden: A Haven for Sea TurtlesSiargao: Magpupungko Beach and Tidal Pools | LakwatseroAbout Bucas GrandeCoral GardenSagadaA Walk in Sangay Siapo Island Before it is Gone? | LakwatseroAmbaguio-Akiki ItineraryCorregidor Island Lighthouse (Faro dela Isla de Corregidor)Faro de Punta de Malabrigo (Malabrigo Point Lighthouse)About CulionNaidi Hill LighthouseBoquete IslandHow to Commute to Temple of LeahCatanduanes: The Heritage Church of Bato | Lakwatsero1. White Water Rafting or KayakingMount Fuji Overnight Climb ItinerarySip & Gogh Paint Studio: Unleash Your Inner Van Gogh | LakwatseroBatanes ItineraryHow to Get to Quitinday HillsAbout Callao CaveDiscover LakawonBiking to Taal: A Fun Ride to Batangas’ Heritage TownAntique Blooming: The Rafflesia of San RemigioMalasimbo Lights and Dance FestivalBacolod ItineraryPoon HillAttractions in Mirador Heritage and Eco ParkHulhumale Public BeachRomblon Island: Bonbon Beach, Tiamban Beach & MoreAdventure in Sabah: White Water Rafting in Padas River | LakwatseroHow to Get to Hinakpan Mystical HillsWelcome to Lake SebuAbout CasiguranAbout BuscalanHow to Go to Kalanggaman IslandFaro de Cabo Bojeador (Cape Bojeador Lighthouse)Backpacking Maldives: Budget Itinerary, Expenses & TipsHow to Get ThereOffbeat Bohol Itinerary: 3D/2N of AdventuresHow to Get to Tawi-TawiAlona BeachPangilatan Falls: The Forgotten Gem of Tapaz, CapizWorld War I: SMS Cormoran II3D/2N Taiwan Itinerary: Taipei – Yehliu – ShiffenLaos for Backpackers: Getting There on a BudgetBasic RequirementsHow to Get to Antong FallsCathedral CaveHow to Go to Gubat, SorsogonAbout SadangaHow to Get to Bugui Point LighthouseHow to Get to Cabra Island LighthouseCebu Itinerary: Three-Day Adventures in the SouthAbout AndaLuna: A Day in the Show Window of Apayao | LakwatseroMargues Blue LagoonFinding Palaui’s Cape Engaño Lighthouse | LakwatseroHow to Get to Mantayupan Falls of Barili, CebuHow to Get to MaligcongLinapacan Islands: Between Paradise | LakwatseroKLIA to KLCCHow to Get to JomaligBanaug ShoalEspadang Bato – Payaran Falls Day Hike Itinerary10 Remarkable Philippine Destinations for Solo TravelMiagao Church: A UNESCO World Heritage Site in IloiloAbout Carbin ReefAbout Parola IslandCabra WreckageCobra Falls: Ozamiz City’s Best Kept SecretBasco: The Chapel on the Hill of Tukon | LakwatseroBack in Kathmandu’s Lovely Mess | LakwatseroHimalayan Adventure: Kathmandu to Pokhara Overland | LakwatseroItineraryChinatown Vancouver (Stop #23)Situbo Falls: Tampilisan's Awesome SurpriseHow to Get to Inambakan FallsTuasan Falls: Another Camiguin’s Charmer | LakwatseroHow to Get to Lake SebuMarinduque Loop: Biking in the Heart of the Philippines1. 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Cruz Grande IslandBasilica de San Martin de ToursBaguio Budget Stay: Upstairs Bed & Bath | LakwatseroBiking in Batanes: Batan Island Loop | LakwatseroCandaba Bird SanctuaryCape EngañoAbout HungduanIligan Tourism Triangle: Mimbalut, Tinago & Maria CristinaAbout Jose PanganibanCadapdapan Rice TerracesHow to Get to Casaroro FallsKiltepan: Sagada’s Best Sunrise | LakwatseroBeguet: Colorado Falls of Tuba | LakwatseroFollow the Call of the Great Outdoors: Go Out & Get More | LakwatseroSanga-Sanga ReefMasbate City: Where to Eat in the City | LakwatseroAbout Carabao IslandRain Vortex at the Jewel of ChangiPacsafe Venturesafe 65L GII Travel PackIrakoWhere to Stay in CarmenHow to Get to Tangadan FallsHow to Get to Samal Island