When Jonathon Monaghan served with the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan in 2009, he formed a bond with his Afghan interpreter that continues to this day.
Now Monaghan and his wife, Kara, are trying to bring his former interpreter, his wife and 30 members of his extended family to the safety of Halifax.
Monaghan said they are applying for permanent residency for the family under a special program from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada provision for extended families of former Afghan interpreters.
CBC News is protecting the identity of the former performer for his personal safety. The man and his family are hiding in Kabul.
Monaghan’s job in Afghanistan was to contact locals to develop a news channel and gather intelligence, he said, and his friend was his main interpreter.
“When we put ourselves in danger when we were in Afghanistan, our interpreters were standing right next to us,” Monaghan said. “Not behind us or hiding or at the back of the group. They were right next to us.”
Returned to Afghanistan
After returning to Canada, Monaghan worked to obtain Canadian citizenship from his former interpreter and he settled in Toronto in 2017 where he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
But his friend found it difficult to live on his own and when he learned that his mother was sick in Afghanistan, he came back to take care of her. There, his mother arranged a marriage for him and died soon after.
When the Taliban took over the country in 2021, he found himself trapped there with his pregnant wife, two brothers and two sisters and their families.
The former interpreter is the only member of his family with travel documents, Monaghan said, and the other 31 family members hope to get their documents when the passport offices open in the next two weeks.
Speaking to CBC News from Kabul by phone using a secure Monaghan connection as a relay, the former interpreter said he was arrested two days ago by the Taliban and badly beaten.
He said one of his brothers worked for the police under a former government, another worked for the air force and a sister worked for intelligence. They all feel like targets.
For their safety, he said he and his family members change locations frequently. The children of the family were also unable to go to school for fear of being kidnapped.
He said he and his family are forever grateful for Monaghan’s loyalty and the work he does to bring them to Halifax.
“My family keeps asking what’s going on and I just tell them that Jon is working hard and everyone is very happy,” he said. “Fortunately, there is hope, and behind that hope, Jon is there.”
Monaghan said he and his wife were working with others to bring the family to Canada.
An Afghan-born professor from the University of Toronto contacted the family by email and filled out the 300 pages of paperwork, Monaghan said.
IRCC documents submitted
Monaghan said they then took the documents to their lawyer who had a video conference with his friend and notarized the documents. They then sent it to the IRCC office in Sydney, NS.
Monaghan said they also spoke to Aman Lara, a group that helps get people out of crisis areas, to get the family across the Pakistani border once immigration papers have been approved and travel documents obtained.
He said he estimates it will cost over $150,000 to get the family to Canada safely and there will be a number of fundraising efforts, including a raffle for a trip for two to Sable Island off Nova Scotia by helicopter.
After his recent experience with the Taliban, Monaghan’s Afghan friend said he hoped the immigration process would go through as quickly as possible.
“I’m really scared that these people don’t have any rules or laws,” he said. “They were going to take me somewhere and beat me to death, so I don’t want to deal with this problem or my family.”
In response to questions from CBC News, the IRCC said the government remains committed to welcoming at least 40,000 Afghan nationals to Canada.
“Requests received under public policy for extended family members of Afghan interpreters continue to be given priority,” the email said.
“However, arrival times will depend on where applicants currently reside, the impact of country conditions on our ability to process their applications (i.e., complete security screening, collect biometric data) and whether applicants have the correct documents to travel and/or the ability to do so (i.e. access to a functioning airport).”
According to the IRCC, the variables involved make it impossible to provide an accurate timeline of expected arrivals under the program.
Canada has welcomed 10,025 Afghan refugees since August 2021, the email says. This number included people arriving in Canada under all immigration streams.