WSO Addresses 'Disturbing Bias' in Afghan Evacuation Story

Ottawa (June 27, 2024):  The World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) is deeply concerned by a front-page story published today in the Globe & Mail entitled "Sajjan instructed special forces to rescue Afghan Sikhs during fall of Kabul." The article raises questions around the efforts to evacuate Afghan Sikhs during the fall of Kabul in August 2021. These evacuation efforts were driven by the dire humanitarian need to protect the highly vulnerable Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities. Allegations that Minister Harjit Sajjan acted inappropriately are unfounded and appear to be influenced by bias against his Sikh identity.

Afghan Sikhs and Hindus faced relentless persecution and brutal attacks in the years leading up to the Taliban's takeover. These attacks included bombings, targeted killings, and systematic discrimination, putting the community at extreme risk. In July 2018, a suicide bomb attack killed 19 Sikh and Hindu leaders as they headed to meet President Ashraf Ghani. In March 2020, a suicide attack on the Guru Har Rai Sahib Gurdwara in Kabul killed 25 Sikhs. The Islamic State warned that it would continue to target and kill all Sikhs in Afghanistan. The community, which once numbered in the tens of thousands, was reduced to approximately 225 vulnerable individuals. As the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated, the WSO, along with other organizations and political leaders, called upon the Canadian government to evacuate Afghan Sikhs and provide them with a safe haven. Canadian Sikhs had offered to privately sponsor the evacuated refugees.

In July 2020, a group of 25 Canadian MPs from the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP), and the Green Party wrote to then-Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino calling for a special program for Afghan Sikh and Hindu refugees so that they could be brought to safety in Canada.

In August 2021, the WSO, along with other groups, called repeatedly on the Canadian Government to evacuate the approximately 225 remaining Afghan Sikhs and Hindus to safety.

WSO President Danish Singh stated,

"Evacuating vulnerable groups like Afghan Sikhs and Hindus was a humanitarian duty that any Canadian minister should have undertaken. The suggestion that Minister Harjit Sajjan acted on this issue because he is a Sikh is deeply troubling and reflects a disturbing bias.

The Globe and Mail story doesn’t mention the history of terror attacks and suicide bombings faced by Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.  It also doesn’t mention the ongoing threats by Islamic State to wipe these communities out. There was no doubt that Sikhs, being a very visible minority, would continue to be the target of attacks. The attempts to evacuate Afghan Sikhs and Hindus were not about favouritism but about responding to an urgent humanitarian crisis. 

It's deeply concerning that humanitarian efforts to rescue an undeniably vulnerable community are being scrutinized through a lens of bias. Our focus should be on Canada's moral and international obligation to protect those at risk, regardless of their religious or ethnic background.

The insinuation that Minister Sajjan prioritized Sikh interests over Canadian interests is not only baseless but also dangerously divisive. This narrative perpetuates a troubling and unfounded stereotype about Sikh Canadians having disproportionate influence in politics - a claim that has long been used to marginalize Sikh voices in public discourse.

Ironically, while Sikh Canadians have advocated since 2015 that more should be done to save the lives of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, it's a failed last-minute evacuation attempt by Canadian forces that is now being mischaracterized as special treatment or undue privilege.

We would agree with Minister Sajjan’s assessment- if he did not wear a turban, there would be no question as to whether his actions were appropriate.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) is a non-profit organization with a mandate to promote and protect the interests of Canadian Sikhs, as well as to promote and advocate for the protection of human rights for all individuals.

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  • Balpreet Singh
    published this page in Press Releases 2024-06-27 10:17:32 -0400