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Monday, September 27, 2021

Taliban will ‘hang me’: Afghan interpreters plead with Canada for help

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TORONTO — With Taliban insurgents making rapid territorial gains across Afghanistan in recent weeks, chilling new audio from a local interpreter who worked with the Canadian Forces illustrates how much danger he and others like him are facing in their own country.

In an audio file posted on YouTube, one interpreter located in Helmund province tells how he and others risked their lives alongside Canadian soldiers to support the mission against the Taliban from 2010 to 2011. He now asks why Ottawa and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are not moving more quickly to get his family to safety.

“Mr. Trudeau, I am a father. My daughter is a year-and-a-half old. From one father to another, I beg you to please help me and my family to get out of Afghanistan before the Taliban find us,” he said.

“If Canada does not act immediately, me and my wife, my daughter, and my brothers will be captured by the Taliban. They will hang me, shoot me and cut my head off. They will kill my wife and daughter. They will kill my brothers … you promised me my family would one day come to Canada [and] enjoy the peace that your family enjoy every day.”

Canadian veterans have expressed, with growing urgency, the need for Canada to help Afghan translators and interpreters who worked with Canadian soldiers during the war come to Canada with their families.

Canada’s immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino says the government is working on a plan to help the families, but did not offer clarity on when that plan might take effect.

“We know that Afghans put their own lives at risk by helping the Canadian effort in the war there, and we want to do right by them,” he said Friday. “And so we hope to have more to say about that in the very near future.”

Sayed Shah is worried about his two brothers who are facing threats because of his work with the Canadian Forces more than a decade earlier. The Taliban knows him well, Shah said, and he is certain if they take over Kandahar and Kabul, his brothers will die. He already lost five members of his family in 2013 when they were killed by a roadside bomb detonated by the Taliban.

“They are at risk because of me, because I worked with the Canadian army,” he said. “I put my family at risk.”

A former battlefield interpreter who worked with the Canadian military between November 2007 and March 2010, Shah was able to come to Canada under the original special immigration program. The soldiers who supported his visa application credited his bravery under intense Taliban fire with saving Canadian lives. Now, with the Taliban closing in on Kandahar, he is seeking similar protection for his brothers, who are now in hiding.

“If they’re not evacuated from Afghanistan they will be targetted and killed,” Shah said.

Ottawa previously announced it was establishing a dedicated refugee stream for “human rights defenders” including journalists and others who may seek asylum to escape persecution in their country.

With a Sept. 11 departure deadline looming, other NATO allies have already announced evacuation plans for thousands of Afghans. The U.S. said this week that flights for eligible Afghan citizens would begin by the end of July.

The interpreters were critical to NATO operations in the Middle East, including the more than 40,000 Canadian soldier who served in Afghanistan. Many Afghans risked their lives helping on the front lines.

A special immigration program set up in 2009 and ended two years later helped bring some 800 former interpreters and their families over to Canada, but thousands were left behind. Many now face the possibility of torture or death over their role in helping Canadian troops, advocates say.

The sudden overnight withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan at the beginning of July after nearly two decades of fighting accelerated the Taliban’s movement across the country, with Taliban officials saying the group now has control of more than 85 per cent of the territory — a figure that is disputed by others.

With files from CTV National News Parliamentary Bureau Reporter Annie Bergeron-Oliver, CTVNews.ca writer Christy Somos and The Canadian Press

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