ASYLUM FOR AFGHAN FILMMAKERS
ASYLUM FOR AFGHAN FILMMAKERS
Open Letter for the Protection of Documentarians and Filmmakers in Afghanistan
Addressed to the Canadian Government:
Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Honourable Marco E. L. Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Heritage
In consideration of the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan:
As documentary filmmakers, we are writing to urge the Canadian government to do everything in its power to facilitate the departure from Afghanistan of at-risk Afghans and, crucially, to amend the definition of journalists to include: documentary filmmakers, film subjects, writers, directors, archivists, photographers, camerapersons and related parties; and the definition of journalism to include the practice of filmmaking.
As the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC), in association with cultural institutions, film festivals and arts organizations such as the NFB/ONF, Hot Docs, acting in solidarity with our peers in Afghanistan, we recognize the vulnerability of the country’s documentary filmmakers and related parties, who, some of which, are already being targeted by the Taliban and forced into hiding for their contributions to documentary film. Afghan journalists, activists, sources, and ordinary citizens who contribute and appear in documentaries, films and news clips—and whose work has assisted Canadian, US and other international governments—face threats to their lives and their freedom of expression because of their exposure and the nature of their work. As a form of journalism, documentaries have a vital role in truth-telling and shedding light on under-reported realities. By embedding themselves in communities, working directly with sources that often include vulnerable groups like women and human rights activists, and routinely exposing abuses of power, documentary filmmakers and the subjects of their films often take great risks when telling these stories.
The Canadian government’s current definition of journalism alarmingly excludes documentary filmmakers and related parties, who often work without the protection of a media organization or traditional press credentials. Without immediate changes to Canada’s approach to granting visas and providing safe passage to land borders, airports and flights, they are unlikely to have safe passage out of the country and are forced to remain in a volatile political climate.
For 20 years, Canadians have built relationships and partnerships with Afghans. Yet as the vocation of documentary filmmaking has become more life threatening, many of our peers see no choice but to leave the country. Afghan documentary filmmakers, film subjects, writers, directors, archivists, photographers, camerapersons and related parties have risked their lives to tell their stories to Canadian and world audiences. Recognizing this essential role in protecting human rights and holding power to account, building more just and democratic societies, and telling the stories that often go unheard, it is the duty of the Canadian government to live up to its promises to Afghans and uphold these principles.
We therefore make the following demands of the Canadian government, in order to save lives and fulfill the promises made to Afghan allies, colleagues, and friends:
• Immediately amend the definition of journalism to include documentary filmmakers and related parties as a vulnerable group, which is used to refer at risk Afghans for evacuation lists;
• Take immediate action to facilitate expedited visa processing and provide asylum for all of these vulnerable Afghans. The closure and suspension of operations of the Canadian embassy in Kabul has jeopardized the safety of visa applicants. As such, visas should be processed either in Canada or, if possible, in Afghanistan;
• Provide a clear plan to ensure safe passage for these individuals seeking asylum to land borders, airports and flights;
• Open and keep open the Kabul airport until all at-risk Afghans who wish to evacuate have done so, and allow chartered, commercial, and humanitarian flights to operate out of the airport under the protection of the UN or another respected international organization;
• Hold the Taliban accountable to commitments made during the Doha negotiations and to international human rights norms, including the safeguarding of the right to free expression and defending media freedom for all members of society and of all aspects of cultural heritage;
• Remove or substantially increase the quotas for Afghan refugees to match the 40,000 Syrian refugees accepted by the Canadian government, to ensure that all applicants who are documentary filmmakers and related parties—or who have assisted documentary filmmakers —are included;
• Permanently halt any deportations of Afghan refugees currently in progress in Canada;
• With full public transparency, provide assurance that the Canadian asylum and resettlement programs are reserved for the ongoing efforts of those still trying to flee, without limitation to those who have already managed to evacuate. Additionally, provide resources for Afghans to expedite the asylum process, and resources to resettle Afghans in Canada.
In addition to the above demands, we call on governments of all nations to facilitate the evacuation and resettlement of Afghan refugees by offering asylum and aid. And we call on Canadians and Canadian documentary and film organizations, media, and cultural institutions to bolster our demands by communicating them directly to local and national representatives.
* This letter is written in solidarity with the efforts of Canadian groups advocating for press freedom including the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), as well as recent calls for the protection of Afghan artists and cultural workers.
Ina Fichman, Board Chair, Documentary Organization of Canada
Sarah Spring, Executive Director of the Documentary Organization of Canada
Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal (RIDM)
DOXA Documentary Film Festival
Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival
L'Académie canadienne du cinéma et de la télévision – section Québec