TORONTO — As the U.S. and NATO withdraw troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban makes significant territorial gains, three former task force commanders of Canada’s military mission in the country are urging the federal government to resettle Afghan interpreters who served alongside them.
In an open letter addressed to Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino on Thursday, retired major-generals David Fraser, Denis Thompson, and Dean Milner warned that 115 former interpreters, cultural advisers, and other locals and their families might face reprisals from the Taliban for helping Canadian troops and diplomats.
“If and when they are found they will likely be imprisoned or worse, for their service in support of our mission,” the letter reads. “These people are considered “comrades-in-arms” and their plight is affecting these veterans – as it should all Canadians.”
The generals called for the government to expedite the immigration process to bring these Afghans and their families to Canada.
“There is an acute need to ensure the safety and well-being of those Afghan nationals who served alongside Canadian soldiers, development officers and diplomats during our intervention. Between 2006-2011, at least six interpreters were killed alongside our troops. Many more are likely to die without our immediate assistance,” the generals wrote.
In the aftermath of 9/11, more than 40,000 Canadian troops served in the United Nations-mandated mission in Afghanistan from 2001 until 2014.
Between 2009 and 2011, 780 Afghan interpreters and their families were resettled in Canada as part of a special immigration program. However, thousands of interpreters were left behind after the program ended.
“This short-lived yet effective program should be re-established immediately if we wish to save lives,” the generals said.
In a statement issued to CTVNews.ca late Friday, a spokesperson for Mendicino noted that in October 2009, Special Immigration Measures (SIM) were introduced for certain Afghan nationals who served as local staff in Kandahar province, or on a contract in direct support of the Canadian Forces and Global Affairs Canada.
“In February 2012, IRCC began implementing a revised Public Policy towards a reassessment of some cases that were not approved under the first Public Policy. Over 800 Afghan nationals, including family members, were resettled to Canada under the initial policy and its successor,” Alexander Cohen, Mendicino’s press secretary, said via email.
“We are currently working to assist individuals previously or currently employed by the Canadian Government, who wish to come here and did not avail themselves of either of the previous temporary policies.”
Previously, a government spokesperson also noted that Afghans who were ineligible to immigrate under the special program that ran from 2009 to 2011 may apply to immigrate to Canada “through existing provisions under the Immigration and Refugee and Protection Act.”
They added that those who don’t meet the criteria may apply for humanitarian and compassionate considerations, which are assessed on a case-by-case basis.
The generals’ urgent appeal comes as the Taliban takes control of more districts and territory throughout Afghanistan, with the insurgent group claiming on Friday they now have control of 85 per cent of the country.
“The United States’ and NATO’s withdrawal has created conditions of tremendous uncertainty inside Afghanistan. The recent advances of the Taliban are unsettling and the potentially violent consequences that await people in authority and their supporters cannot be ignored,” the letter said.