More than a hundred former Afghan interpreters gathered at the centennial flame in Ottawa today, starting a hunger strike to mark the seventh anniversary of the departure of the last NATO troops from Kabul, and demanding that the Canadian government is stepping up the pace by bringing in loved ones still stuck in Afghanistan or neighboring countries.
“My family, my brother, his wife, their children, they are hiding, because the Taliban are always looking for these people, like a search operation, or you can say like a revenge operation [against those who worked with Western forces]“, said Naqubullah Muhammad Nasim.
The former interpreter said he could only communicate with his wife, who is still in hiding in Afghanistan, sporadically every two weeks as she changes location and phone number to stay off Taliban radar .
Nasim still has pain in his face and leg after he was ambushed and shot in Kandahar in July 2009.
He was attacked one evening after his shift ended, after jumping in his car to drive home. He said the Taliban shot him in the leg and in the face, and he lost control, hitting another vehicle.
He was left for dead by his assailants, and was only saved thanks to the efforts of civilians who took him to hospital.
“Help us,” he told Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada on Parliament Hill on Thursday, saying some interpreters are so desperate to see their families again that they may be willing to return to Afghanistan, even if it means surrendering to the Taliban.
Advocacy with the government
A plane carrying around 300 Afghans from Dushanbe International Airport in Tajikistan arrived in Toronto last night, carrying the 10,000th Afghan to land in Canada since the fall of Kabul last summer.
The federal government has promised to bring in four times that number.
Ghulam Faizi, another former Afghan interpreter, said some of his family members are stranded in Afghanistan, while his brother and seven others have arrived in Pakistan, but no further.
“[My brother] said to me, “Do you really trust the Canadian government, which has promised you [they’d bring me over]?’ And I didn’t have an answer to that,” Faizi said.
Faizi arrived in Canada in October 2011 but said moving his extended family here became a priority after the Taliban took over.
He pleaded with the federal government to help evacuate people before they were killed by the Taliban.
CBC News spoke to three families currently stuck in Islamabad, each living in cramped quarters without papers allowing them to move freely in Pakistan. They say their applications seem blocked at the Canadian Embassy.
CBC also saw the file numbers of 35 different applicants and made inquiries with the embassy about them. Consular authorities have not yet provided details on these cases.
An applicant, Mohammed Nasimy, who helped detect bombs for the Canadian Armed Forces, showed correspondence from the CBC in which he alerted the embassy that he was short of money and could not feed his new -not.
“Your file continues to be under active consideration,” the emailed response said, also noting that “the Government of Canada does not guarantee, facilitate, or assure any client of the approval or permission to continue to travel to or enter Canada until and unless all basic assessments have been completed and submitted to their application.
Nasimy called the response “heartbreaking”.
Canada welcomed 10,000 Afghan refugees
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser admitted that there is still a lot of work to be done for those who are not there yet, including relatives of Afghan interpreters stranded abroad.
“We have been in contact with these families prior to my appointment to this portfolio, and we will remain in contact with them,” Fraser told CBC.
“With Pakistan, we see there are challenges with potential exit checks. We need to have conversations about the challenges of people who may have been given status for a while, but are afraid they won’t. have room to go.”
WATCH | Thousands of Afghans are still waiting to enter Canada:
Meanwhile, NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan has her own suggestion.
“Bring these family members here, and if all the paperwork is not completed, [security checks] are not done, they can do it while they are safe in Canada, and to make sure that all this work and all the checks are done,” she said, referring to the Ministry of Immigration.
“If they don’t, and if they continue down this path, people are going to die.”
The federal government waived some security screening requirements for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, such as fingerprints or retinal scans, including for those 18 and over 60.
But Fraser said he could not unilaterally make that call for the Afghans.
“We rely on the advice of experts who understand how to develop a security screening process that will facilitate the travel of the people we would like to bring to Canada without compromising security interests,” he said.
The minister said that to do otherwise would jeopardize the confidence of Canadians in the current immigration system.