Canada’s largest humanitarian aid agencies are joining together to demand that Canada allows for lifesaving aid to be provided to Afghans in need.

Afghanistan is in the midst of a deepening humanitarian crisis. More than half of the population — at least 23 million people — require urgent humanitarian assistance, and 19.7 million people are regularly going to bed hungry – including over 13 million children.

The UN has called upon the international community to make a humanitarian exception to sanctions against the Taliban, in order to make a way for vital aid and humanitarian assistance to reach Afghans in need.

While our allies have already carved out humanitarian exceptions to their sanctions regimes and criminal law, Canada has yet to provide an avenue for humanitarian agencies to continue their operations in Afghanistan.

Canada has a duty not to turn its back on the people of Afghanistan.

The current economic collapse – brought on by the cumulative impact of years of conflict, food shortages, challenges in governance, recurrent natural disasters, and now international sanctions – is hurting innocent civilians, especially Afghan women and girls.

Now more than ever, we must stand up for Afghans in extremely vulnerable situations. Canadian humanitarian and development agencies have operated in Afghanistan for decades and must be allowed to continue carrying out essential operations. We will continue to work our hardest to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches those who need it the most.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the constraints being faced by Canadian charities?

Since the Taliban takeover almost a year ago, Canadian charities have faced constraints in sending aid to Afghanistan due to Canadian sanctions and a restrictive interpretation of the Canadian Criminal Code’s Anti-Terrorism provisions.
Afghanistan underwent a rapid political transition following the United States’ withdrawal— after nearly 20 years of Western military presence — and the Taliban’s rise to power. In light of these events, the international community immediately reinforced sanctions against the new government. Today, ordinary Afghan civilians are living through a humanitarian crisis, which has only been exacerbated by COVID-19 impacts, an ongoing drought that has widened food insecurity, and most recently, the June 2022 earthquake, which resulted in the loss of over 1,000 Afghan lives.
The UN has called upon the international community to make a humanitarian exception to sanctions against the Taliban to make way for vital aid and humanitarian assistance. While Canadian allies – including the United States, the UK, the EU, and Australia – have already carved out humanitarian exceptions to their sanctions regimes and other barriers, Canada has not yet taken steps to provide an avenue for humanitarian agencies to continue their operations in Afghanistan without the real risk of criminal prosecution.
Further, a restrictive interpretation of the Criminal Code’s Anti-Terrorism provisions is also contributing to the stalling of Canadian organizations’ responses.

Supported by UN Security Council resolutions 2615 and 2626 and the principles of humanitarian law, we urgently call on Canada to ensure that sanctions and counter-terror financing restrictions do not impede the humanitarian response.

Are you engaging with the Taliban?

A humanitarian catastrophe is rapidly unfolding in Afghanistan and millions of people are facing malnutrition and severe hunger, so it is absolutely vital that humanitarian agencies are able to safely and impartially deliver aid to people in need. Like all agencies, we meet and discuss with national and provincial authorities, and bodies such as the NGO Commission, to try and secure access and agreements to work independently of government and in accordance with the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality.

Are NGOs able to work and access people in Afghanistan at the moment? Is the Taliban blocking aid?

The situation varies across the country but overall humanitarian access is now relatively good. Security has improved again, though we must not be complacent about this, and the new authorities are allowing aid agencies to carry out our important work. The key challenge now is addressing the economic crisis and the financial restrictions that make it hard to get money into the country.

What are you seeing in the areas where you work in terms of women’s rights and participation – e.g. girls’ education and female NGO staff?

The situation varies significantly between provinces and local leaders. Generally, women are able to work on some vital projects such as health and education, but in most areas women are having to work from home and cannot attend the office. Some areas show more flexibility on girls’ education than others but while younger girls may be allowed to attend school, thousands of teenage girls are still studying from home. We believe the rights of women and girls must be respected. Girls and women should be able to safely access education beyond primary school, participate in public life and decision-making, be free to work and socialize, and have the same protected rights as men and boys. It is essential that female humanitarian staff are allowed to do their work. We urge the national leadership to ensure that these rights are consistently respected and approved throughout all provinces.

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