AFGHAN SIKH VOICES
On 25 March 2020, an attack on a Gurduara (Sikh place of learning and worship) in Kabul, Afghanistan killed 25 people. This renewed the call for safeguarding Sikhs in Afghanistan from extinction. From 250,000 in the 1970's, the best estimates to date count 696 Sikhs (and Hindus) remaining in Afghanistan. Global concern is at an all-time high, but with few connections to Sikhs on the ground, misinformation is rampant and channels for meaningful relief are few and far between.
We seek to bridge the gap between advocacy campaigns and channels for immediate relief and sustainable solutions. We are a community-led, community-driven, independent initiative designed to collect, fact-check, and analyze information. We aspire to craft recommendations that are informed, nuanced, and implementable.
Our aim is to be rhetoric-free and complex-free. Guru Nanak Sahib reminds us: "Nanak voices 1-Eternal’s writ: speaks the truth, it is time for the truth.” (Guru Granth Sahib 723).
THE CURRENT SITUATION
10 APRIL 2020 INFORMATIONAL UPDATE
Resettling Families from Helmand Province
We would like to update our information on the resettlement strategies being facilitated by the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation (MSBF). Earlier we had stated that the 65 families being assisted by the organization’s efforts were identified after the 2018 attack in Jalalabad. Although coverage on the arrival of these families to India and Canada have described them as arriving from Jalalabad, these families were in fact identified as being critical need families in 2015, and primarily hail from the province of Helmand, which under Taliban rule faced some of the greatest violence and insecurity among Afghanistan’s provinces. 16 of these 65 families have arrived in Canada. 44 are in process and are funded. 10 are still awaiting funding.
We hope that the length of the ongoing resettlement process for the Helmand families provides context for concerned allies on the necessary scope for any further relief and resettlement plans. Considering the length of available processes, we recommend that those collecting funds begin to chart out the allocation of funds for long-term resettlement needs. We recommend that it is assumed that a minimum of 3-5 years must be spent in India before the requisite paperwork to move to a secondary destination is made possible, should the desire of a family or individual be to settle elsewhere.
RELIEF AND RESETTLEMENT
The urgent call to get the remaining Sikhs of Afghanistan to safety has generated significant attention for two campaigns dedicated to the cause of Afghan Sikhs: The sponsorship project launched in 2018 by the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation (MSBF) and the related advocacy campaign by the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO). MSBF is continuing a project launched after the July 2018 suicide attack by the Islamic State of the Khorasan Province (ISKP) in Jalalabad on Afghan Sikh and Hindu political representatives. Funds were collected by the foundation in order to resettle 65 families to India as a primary destination and then Canada as their final destination. To date, 15 of these families have been successfully resettled in Canada. At least 10 other families have reached India and are in the process of waiting for their Canadian visas to be awarded. Funds collected by MSBF are dedicated to the finishing of the Jalalabad resettlement scheme.
There are no resettlement schemes that provide a direct pathway to Canada. As of now, the only viable pathway for migration to Canada is to apply as a UNHCR refugee from India as the primary host country. WSO is leading advocacy efforts to raise awareness in Canada’s parliament of the dangers faced by the Afghan Sikh community. The campaign calls for participants to contact representatives and state their desire for a direct resettlement pathway from Afghanistan to Canada as well as an expedited process for the 44 families who have secured sponsors in North America. They are from the 65 families identified by MSBF as critical need families.
Since the attack on 25 March 2020, no new sponsorship pathways for the 696 individuals that remain have been created. Nonetheless, giving a voice to ongoing resettlement efforts through the Afghanistan-India-Canada pathway is critical.
Please see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section for more information on why this pathway is currently the most viable choice. Meanwhile, the ongoing work of resettling families put in acute danger in 2018 has not finished. Additionally, organizations working on immediate relief for the Sikh community of Afghanistan are still developing channels for distributing aid.
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Though there has been a focus on calling upon the Canadian government, advocacy organizations in America and European countries need to pursue relocation models in accordance with their respective national refugee policies.
In the wake of the attack in Kabul, advocacy campaigns in the vein of WSO’s strategy in Canada have been suggested to call upon the Indian government to intervene and assist the remaining Sikh families. These include calls to the Indian government to lift policies enacted due to COVID-19, such as the current suspension of Indian visas, ban on incoming flights, and border closures, in order to allow entry for Afghan Sikhs. Advocacy models frequently enacted through social media campaigns in North America and Europe are not suitable for replication in the Indian-Afghan political landscape. Access by credible individuals to decision-makers, both bureaucrats and politicians, has proven to be a much more effective means of achieving desired outcomes. Furthermore, no plan is executable without the explicit consent of the Afghan government and the Sikhs in Afghanistan. The will of those who want to remain in Afghanistan must be respected as well.
The interim period in India is far more than a passive waiting period. Significant logistics, project management, and bureaucratic navigation is required to adequately support families through the 3-5 years of wait time for a secondary visa. While confidentiality must be maintained by the individuals and organizations working on relocation options, fiduciary responsibility and credible governance must be assured. It is paramount to gain confidence of both the donors and the governments involved; this remains a challenge for those raising funds and making operational plans.
Let us acknowledge the resilience of the Afghan Sikh community. And let us work to assure their survival!