Dozens of Afghan interpreters and others who worked for the Canadian government during its military mission in Afghanistan are hoping to be resettled in Canada amid fears their lives are in danger from Taliban reprisals as the U.S. withdraws its troops from the war-torn country.
Canada, which withdrew its armed forces from Afghanistan seven years ago, has been urged to quickly resettle interpreters and staff because they now face retaliation from the Taliban. The U.S. military left Bagram Airfield, the centre of the U.S’s operations last week, fuelling urgency to resettle Afghans.
Other countries that participated in the U.S.-led war against the Taliban are also facing similar calls.
A federal government official told The Globe and Mail that 40 Afghans, most of whom were interpreters while some served in other roles, have indicated they want to come to Canada. That is in addition to Afghan staff who work at the Canadian embassy, and they are expecting there will be more, the official said. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the official because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the issue.
The official said Ottawa is working expeditiously to move cases along through the immigration and refugee system.
Last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report that the U.S., Britain, Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries should “urgently” accelerate visa processing and relocation efforts.
The report said that the Taliban denied that former interpreters and others who worked for foreign governments were at risk. However, the Taliban also warned that these individuals should “show remorse for their past actions and … not engage in such activities in the future that amount to treason against Islam.” HWR said the Taliban have long targeted civilians, particularly those they accuse of working for the Afghan government, or foreign governments.
On Monday, German authorities said they granted 2,400 visas so far to Afghans who worked for Germany’s military, as well as their relatives. Germany withdrew its remaining troops from the country last week after a nearly 20-year deployment.
The federal government source told The Globe that so far, Ottawa has been able to deal with cases individually, so implementing a resettlement program hasn’t been needed.
Alexander Cohen, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, said that in 2009, the government introduced a program for certain Afghan nationals who served as local staff in Kandahar province or were on a contract in direct support of the Canadian government.
In 2012, he said, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada began implementing a revised policy toward reassessing cases that were not successful under the first one. More than 800 Afghan nationals, including family members, were resettled to Canada under the initial policy and its successor.
Afghans who were not eligible under the policies, he said, may apply to immigrate to Canada through existing provisions under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. And those who do not meet the government’s immigration criteria can request humanitarian and compassionate consideration.
“We are closely monitoring the evolving security situation in Afghanistan,” he said.
New Democrat immigration critic Jenny Kwan said as Canada’s allies withdraw troops from the country, “time is of the essence” to resettle Afghan employees who aided the Canadian government.
“To say that Canada will monitor the situation, which is the minister’s response, that’s akin to saying that Canada will stand on the sideline and watch as Afghan interpreters receive the death sentence,” she said in an interview.
Ms. Kwan also took issue with the idea of dealing with cases individually, calling it a “stock answer to quell public pressure.”
Afghan interpreters who helped the Canadian military, Ms. Kwan said, should not be left behind.
Conservative immigration critic Jasraj Singh Hallan, defence critic James Bezan and public services and procurement critic Pierre Paul-Hus issued a joint statement saying that the withdrawal of U.S. military forces and NATO partners in Afghanistan has given rise to increased Taliban activity in some provinces, and that Afghan interpreters who assisted the Canadian Armed Forces are receiving death threats.
“As Afghan interpreters plead for assistance from this government to flee from these threats of danger, the Trudeau Liberals are slamming the door shut,” the statement said.
With a report from Associated Press
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