An Afghan security guard who was twice wounded and decorated for protecting the Canadian embassy in Kabul has been stranded in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in August, his appeals for help from Canada left unanswered.
The Canadian government promised to evacuate the guard, whose name is Walid, from the country with his family. But they, along with many other Afghan support staff and military interpreters, were left behind when the last evacuation flights departed after the Taliban captured Kabul.
The Globe and Mail is identifying Walid only by his first name because he and his family fear Taliban retaliation for his work at the now-shuttered Canadian embassy, which was one of the world’s most dangerous diplomatic posts.
“I am disappointed that Canada has left us high and dry,” Walid, 46, said in a WhatsApp interview from a safe location in Afghanistan. “If you were the one who worked for 13 years for Canada day and night securing the safety of our foreign people, how would you feel?”
Walid and his family are now hiding in safe houses. They fear for their lives. The family’s home in Baghlan has been confiscated by the Taliban. Walid said he recently narrowly avoided capture when the Taliban came searching for him at a safe house while he was elsewhere.
“I don’t know day-to-day whether I will be alive. I don’t have the money to survive … There are days I go without food because I want to make sure I have the funds to pay the safe house for the day or two that I am there,” he said. “I am very worried about my elderly mother and my girls and wife. I am concerned for their lives.” He has five daughters and two sons.
In 2012, Walid was injured by shrapnel from a bombing outside the Canadian embassy that was part of a co-ordinated wave of Taliban assaults on Western embassies. He said he was wounded again in 2016 when the Taliban fired a grenade launcher at the door of the embassy. The 2016 incident was unrelated to a Taliban suicide bomber attack the same year, which targeted a bus carrying Canadian embassy security guards, killing 14.
Walid provided copies of the Ambassador’s Awards he received in 2012 and 2016 for his “outstanding performance and exceptional contribution.”
“I worked for 13 years for the embassy and I threw myself into the war zone so I could protect the staff of Canada while they were working in our country,” he said. “At one time, I thought if I get killed at least Canada will be protecting my children, because I am the only one supporting my family.”
Walid was instructed by the Canadian embassy in early August to submit an application under a special immigration program designed expressly for Canada’s former Afghan employees. He submitted the application on Aug. 7 and received an automatic reply. It said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada had received the application, and it told him to await further notice. He has heard nothing since.
Walid showed up at the heavily fortified Canadian mission on Aug. 12 and 26 to get information on evacuation flights. By the second visit, the Taliban had taken over the building, he said. “They pointed guns at us, so we kept our mouths shut and we didn’t tell them we work here.”
He later tried to get to Kabul airport in an attempt to catch one of the last flights out of the country, but he turned back because the situation was too dangerous.
The interview with Walid was translated by New Hampshire Democratic state legislator Safiya Wazir, who knows Walid’s family. She brought his situation to the attention of The Globe and Mail after her repeated attempts to contact Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government went unanswered.
Ms. Wazir, whose own family fled Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in 1997 when she was six years old, expressed frustration that her pleas to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser and the Prime Minister’s Office had not produced results. She had also enlisted New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a member of the U.S. Senate foreign relations committee, to forward a letter to both the Canadian embassy in Washington and the minister’s Ottawa office.
In a Nov. 28 letter to Mr. Fraser, Ms. Wazir urged him to review Walid’s case and facilitate passage and resettlement to Canada for him and his immediate family. Before he can leave Afghanistan he needs a Canadian document to show to a third country that says he will be accepted by Canada under the special immigration program, or as a refugee.
“It is a hurtful moment if someone is reaching out in a crisis and they are not doing a single thing,” Ms. Wazir said. “If something happens, the blood of these people will be on Canadians’ hands.”
Seven months ago, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office promised to respond to Ms. Wazir’s e-mailed request for help. “I have never heard a single response,” she said.
Mr. Fraser’s press secretary, Aidan Strickland, said privacy laws prevent him from discussing Walid’s case or the reasons his office has not responded to Ms. Wazir’s requests. He said in a statement that the situation in Afghanistan makes it difficult for Canada to help those left behind.
“We are navigating a constantly evolving situation in which the government of Canada has no military or diplomatic presence and therefore cannot assist with travel arrangements or provide local support in Afghanistan,” he said. “The bottleneck is not the processing capacity of the government of Canada – it’s the situational and environmental factors on the ground.”
Ms. Wazir is being helped in her effort by Ottawa lawyers Jacques Shore and Lewis Retik. Both men come from families of Holocaust survivors.
They are founders of Operation Abraham, which is associated with the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights. The program is seeking to evacuate hundreds of Afghans and to assist in their resettlement in Canada and other democratic countries.
“Operation Abraham just wants to have visa documents from the Government of Canada. The rest they will handle in getting Afghans at risk out of the country,” Ms. Wazir said.
Ottawa has promised to bring 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada, but so far only about 10,600 have made it here.
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