CANADA: The Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Ahmed Hussen, said on Tuesday that the Canadian government is working on a plan to approve private sponsorship and resettlement of Sikh and Hindu citizens of Afghanistan who have fled the country due to religious persecution.

The annoucement follows the concerted campaign by the Late Canadian politician, Manmeet Singh Bhullar to secure a long term solution to the attrocities faced by religious minorities in Afghanistan. After learning about the desperate situation faced by Sikh children, women and men in Afghanistan, Manmeet Singh began raising awareness of their plight with government officials in Canada and abroad in addition to organisations and individuals. Focusing on the dire need to find a solution to the daily attrocities faced by Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan, Manmeet Singh individually oversaw the safe exit of one family at a time from the province of Helmand into a neighbouring country. While settling them in and finding local organizations that would provide food, shelter and clothing, Manmeet Singh remained committed to finding a permanent solution to the situation.

In a tragic turn of events, Manmeet Singh Bhullar was killed following a motor vehicle collision while driving on the highway from Calgary to Edmonton in bad weather in November 2015. Manmeet Singh had stopped to assist a driver involved in a collision and sustained fatal injuries after he was struck by a truck that had lost control descending a hill.

The initiative by the Canadian government honours the legacy of Manmeet Singh Bhullar and is being moved forward by the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation in Canada, with approved individuals to be welcomed to Canada in the coming year. In a media release, the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation stated:

“The announcement by The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, on behalf of the Government of Canada, is a welcome step towards completing the work Manmeet started. We look forward to hearing about immediate next steps.
Manmeet’s vision has been carried forward by the collective work of many. Our thanks to The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan and members of his team, who remain steadfast in their commitment to sharing this goal with us. Minister Sajjan has demonstrated leadership and conviction to the true principles of our faith through this work.
Our sincere appreciation to Balpreet Singh and the WSO who continue to advocate alongside us, and the elected officials who gave voice to this project. To the gurdwaras and individuals across this country that have risen to the challenge and provided support for private sponsorship applications, your commitment leaves us humbled.
The work continues for all of us and the true success will be the lives that are to be forever changed once these individuals become future Canadians, contributing to the fabric of our great nation.”

Commenting on the annoucement, Canadian MP for Surrey-Newton, Sukh Dhaliwal stated:

Great announcement by Minister Hussen today regarding the private sponsorship by the Manmeet Bhullar Foundation to welcome persecuted Sikh and Hindu minorities in Afghanistan to Canada. I look forward to welcoming them in early 2019.

Following the tragic death of Manmeet Singh Bhullar, the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation, through support from Gurdwaras across the Canada, Sikh elected officials, friends and family, the generosity of the Sikh community at large, and the World Sikh Organization, made a commitment to see this project through. In a media release, the WSO President Mukbir Singh stated:

“We are delighted by yesterday’s announcement by Minister Hussen that the applications of privately sponsored Sikh and Hindu refugees from Afghanistan have been approved and they will be arriving early in the new year. We are grateful that, in light of the particular vulnerability of these refugees, the Government of Canada has expedited the processing of their files. The remaining Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan, who now number less than 1,500, face growing persecution and hardship – we are hopeful that steps will be taken to also bring them to safety.  We are thankful to the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation and our other community partners for carrying on the critical work that Manmeet started.”  

The Canadian goverment decision comes following one of the most deadly attacks on Sikhs in the country. In July, a targeted suicide bombing in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan left 19 people dead – most of them Sikhs, including their leader Avtar Singh Khalsa, who was running for the Afghan parliament.

According to a recent figure given by representatives of Sikhs in Kabul, the community now numbers fewer than 300 families in Afghanistan, which has only two gurdwaras, one each in Jalalabad and Kabul, the capital.

Although almost entirely a Muslim country, Afghanistan was home to as many as 250,000 Sikhs and Hindus before a devastating civil war in the 1990s.

Even a decade ago, the US State Department said in a report, about 3,000 Sikhs and Hindus still lived in the country.

Despite official political representation and freedom of worship, many face prejudice and harassment as well as violence from militant Islamist groups, prompting thousands to move to India, United Kingdom, Europe and North America.