Two hundred Afghan interpreters who worked with the Canadian Forces are expected to gather at Parliament Hill for a hunger strike on Wednesday to press Ottawa into getting their families out of Afghanistan.
Protest organizer Hayat Khan said that roughly 5,000 extended family members of interpreters remain stuck in the country as the new Taliban government takes control of a country mired in economic crisis and pending food shortages.
Many family members, he said, have been in hiding since the Taliban seized power last month. To highlight their dilemma, protesters have scheduled the hunger strike to last three days and they will camp out on Parliament Hill if permitted.
“If the Taliban find our families, they will be tortured and killed for sure,” Mr. Khan said. “In previous years, our brothers and parents have been killed.”
Now a construction company owner, Mr. Khan and his immediate family came to Canada in 2012 under a resettlement program geared to former interpreters. Extended family, he said, did not qualify at the time.
As Taliban forces streamed across the country in a lightning offensive earlier this summer, Ottawa announced it would resettle 20,000 vulnerable Afghans.
Since then, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has received 12,400 applications for resettlement and approved 8,200.
Just over 2,000 people have arrived in Canada under the resettlement program, according to a government website.
Extended family members qualify for a special humanitarian program designed to relocate Afghans most susceptible to Taliban repercussions, a category that includes human-rights advocates, LGBT individuals and journalists.
But Mr. Khan said extended families of interpreters should be prioritized owing to the imminent threat they face. “The Taliban can forgive many groups, but not the interpreters,” he said. “We were the eyes of ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] for years.”
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendocino said late Tuesday night that a dedicated inbox is being established specifically for the families of interpreters. Starting on Wednesday, family members will be able to e-mail the inbox to get assistance from immigration officials. “We’ve heard the calls of former interpreters, and we understand the precarious situation that family members are in,” said the spokesman, Alexander Cohen. “We’ll continue to work tirelessly and exhaust all options to bring them to safety in Canada.”
Last week, Mr. Mendicino told The Globe and Mail that Ottawa will do whatever it can to get as many Afghans currently in that country to safety in Canada if they fear possible Taliban reprisals.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that Ottawa will take in about 8,000 former Afghan support staff and their families and about 13,000 Afghans now in refugee camps in Pakistan.
The Taliban have assured Canada and other countries that any Afghan national carrying an exit visa from another country will be permitted to leave Afghanistan.
The threat of reprisals comes as the country faces possible famine and economic collapse.
At a UN meeting on Monday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the poverty rate is “spiralling” and basic public services are nearing collapse. The UN’s World Food Program warned that frozen foreign exchanges and a paralyzed state budget have stripped people of money at a time of rising food and fuel costs.
“The people of Afghanistan need a lifeline,” Mr. Guterres said. “After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour. Now is the time for the international community to stand with them. And let us be clear, this conference is not simply about what we will give to the people of Afghanistan. It is about what we owe.”
With a report from Associated Press
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