Saturday will mark one year since Ottawa created a special program to prioritize immigration applications from Afghans who have worked with the Canadian Armed Forces and the Canadian government, as well as their family members.
A former interpreter — whose work earned him a letter of appreciation from Canada’s current chief of defense staff, General Wayne Eyre — is waiting almost as long to find out if he qualifies.
“Sometimes [Eyre] put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Hey nice, you did a really good job for us,’” the performer told CBC News from Islamabad, Pakistan, where he now lives.
CBC News is hiding his identity to protect him from the Taliban, who have issued an arrest warrant for him.
His family still lives in Afghanistan. He said he initially thought they would be safe as long as he left them and went into hiding.
“I am sorry [doing that]“, he said, adding that he had changed hiding places in Afghanistan about 15 times before finally crossing the border into Pakistan in May.
His letter from Eyre is dated August 6, 2007, when Eyre was serving as a lieutenant colonel in Kandahar. In it, Eyre praised the interpreter for his “prompt and courteous” service and said his work training others ensured that “highly qualified translators for operations and garrison duties” were ready for deployment.
The interpreter included Eyre’s letter in his questions to Global Affairs Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. He sent the first of these messages in August last year.
“All I got was an automated response,” he said.
CBC News saw copies of 12 memos that the former interpreter later sent to the government, none of which received a detailed response.
And the Taliban continue to hunt him, he said.
“The Taliban came to my house. They searched my house twice.”
Opposition pushes for program extension
In a statement sent to CBC News last week, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s office confirmed that the 18,000 spots in the Special Immigration Measures Program have been filled through approximately 15,000 applications and referrals from Affaires Canada and the Department of National Defence.
It is not clear whether the candidates who received no answers to their questions are among those 18,000 or have been excluded.
“What happened to all those people who sent their email? Are they going to be left behind?” said NDP Immigration Critic Jenny Kwan.
“As the clock continues to tick, people’s lives are in danger, every minute, every second of the day.”
She again called on the government to expand the program to allow more Afghans to enter the country.
Conservative immigration critic Jasraj Singh Hallan echoed that argument at a news conference on Thursday.
“Canada needs to get its allies to safety because it’s the right thing to do,” Hallan said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser both dodged the question when asked to extend the program on Thursday.
WATCH: Trudeau is asked about the closure of the special Afghan immigration program
Trudeau pointed out that hundreds of thousands of people want to leave Afghanistan.
“We’re going to have to figure out how to scale up and support the people who remain in Afghanistan with humanitarian support, with investments with the global community,” he said.
“Each step of the way, the challenges in Afghanistan are much greater than in other situations where we have been involved in resettlement,” Fraser said, citing the uncooperative nature of the Taliban government, which has been listed as a terrorist entity by Canada and many other Western countries.
CBC News has requested an interview with General Eyre about the interpreter. His office said he was unavailable but offered a written statement.
“There were numerous interpreters and other local personnel (in the hundreds) employed by or associated with the multinational units that General Eyre commanded during his two tours in Afghanistan,” the statement said, adding that he signed numerous certificates and letters based on recommendations from Canadian or coalition supervisors.
The statement said General Eyre “compasses the plight of all Afghans and regrettably is unable to comment or intervene on an individual case”, given his legal and ethical obligations under the conflicts of interest as Chief of the Defense Staff. .
So far, approximately 7,205 Afghans have arrived in Canada under the special immigration measure.
The government has set a goal of bringing 40,000 Afghans to Canada. It has resettled 16,645 Afghans to date.