TORONTO — Local interpreters who worked with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan are pleading for Canada’s help in immigrating after the U.S. military’s withdrawal has led to resurgence of the Taliban.
Nearly all U.S. combat forces have left Afghanistan ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s confirmation that the American military operation in the country will officially end August 31, nearly 20 years since the Taliban was removed from power in Kabul.
News of the U.S troops’ departure, and their subsequent overnight abandonment of the Bagram Air Base, has spurred the Taliban to resurge and take back control of significant amounts of territory, capturing Spin Boldak – a strategic border with Pakistan, and one that Canadians fought and died to protect.
“We were there to do the fighting in the initial stages to help stabilize the situation [and] we did that,” Ret. Maj-Gen. David Fraser told CTV News. “We couldn’t stay there forever, as much as people wanted.”
Now as the Taliban nears Kabul, and has overtaken Kandahar’s Panjwai District, Ottawa has confirmed that it will continue sending humanitarian and developmental aid to Afghanistan – but for the interpreters left behind by Canadian, NATO and U.S. forces time is running out to get them and their families to safety.
‘THERE IS NO PLACE FOR YOU’
Obair says he served alongside Canadian forces in Kandahar as an interpreter, often riding along with them on the front lines.
“The situation is very bad because the Taliban progresses closer day by day, they’re so close to Kabul,” he said in a Skype interview with CTV News. “That’s why I want to come to Canada, I want to relocate from Afghanistan. I have my family here – one daughter, one son and my wife – my life is not good here because of the war.”
The Canadian military will not confirm the identities of those who worked as interpreters. But Obair, who says he worked with Canadian troops for more than a year in 2009, showed CTV News photos, a recommendation letter and certificates as proof.
Obair said the threats facing interpreters like him and his family continue to pour in.
“The threats that we interpreters get from the Taliban in Afghanistan today, they say, ‘You helped the Canadian troops, you helped the foreign troops, you are speaking for us but in Islam, there is no place for you,’” he said. “They said they killed those people [other interpreters].”
Obair said if the Taliban finds out that he worked as an interpreter, they can find his address and they will kill him — he told CTV News that he does not leave his home much out of fear.
CANADA HAS YET TO UNVEIL PLAN
Many NATO allies like France and Germany have already begun or completed evacuations of the Afghans who have helped in various missions — Biden announced that the U.S. “Operation Allies Refuge” flights out of Afghanistan during the week of July will be available for special immigrant visa applicants already in the process of applying to U.S. residency.
Canada, however, has not announced a similar endeavour.
At a press conference Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said of Canada’s duty to the interpreters overseas that Ottawa will “continue to work to ensure that we’re providing the right path.”
“I can assure you that our ministers are working on it,” he continued.
But critics say there is not enough federal action on the crisis.
Former Canadian major-generals submitted an open letter to Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino last week, warning that 115 former interpreters, cultural advisors and other locals and their families will face reprisals from the Taliban for helping Canadian troops and diplomats.
They called for the government to expedite the immigration process to bring them and their families to Canada, a sentiment echoed by a letter-writing campaign from Canadian veterans who also want to see the government “do right” by those who helped the troops overseas.
CTVNews.ca reached out to the Immigration Minister’s office to ask about any programs for relocating Afghan interpreters but did not receive a reply in time for publication.
However, a staffer at the minister’s office told CTV News they know this is “time sensitive” and are working as fast as they can to expedite and review a growing number of applications from current and former workers in Afghanistan seeking to come to Canada.
A previous statement on the subject sent July 3 said the government “recognizes the significant contributions of the brave Afghans who worked for us during Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan.”
The statement reiterated that more than 800 Afghan nationals, including their family members, were resettled in Canada under the special immigration measure from 2009 to 2011 and a revised version of the program that began in 2012.
“Afghans who were ineligible under the Afghan Special Immigration Measures may apply to immigrate to Canada through existing provisions under the immigration and Refugee and Protection Act,” the statement read, adding that those who don’t meet the criteria may apply for humanitarian and compassionate considerations, which are assessed on a case-by-case basis.
“We are closely monitoring the evolving security situation in Afghanistan,” the statement read.
But for Obair, delays and empty promises from the Canadian government are a life-and-death situation.
“They will kill me, they will be shot – me or my family members, that’s why my life is at risk,” he said, adding that since the U.S. has begun pulling out of the country, the situation has become “much worse.”
“There is no place for us to live here. I am a responsible man – I care too much for my family, my daughter, son and wife. They are innocent,” Obair said. “I do not want the Taliban to come and shoot us.”