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Former Afghan interpreters for the Canadian Forces, Ghulam Faizi, left, and Safiullah Mohammad Zahad at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 30.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Former Afghan interpreters are holding a hunger strike on Parliament Hill on Thursday to persuade the federal government to speed up bringing their extended families to safety in Canada.

Ghulam Faizi, a former interpreter, said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is not doing enough to support the interpreters’ extended family members, who are at risk of being targeted, jailed or even killed by the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan because of the interpreters’ past work with the Canadian Armed Forces.

“As Afghan former interpreters, we helped the Canadian mission in Afghanistan and now this is their time to help us in evacuating our families,” he said.

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Mr. Faizi said he came to Canada in 2011 and is living with his wife and children, but many of his family members, including his parents, are stuck in Afghanistan.

IRCC has been meeting weekly with Afghan-Canadian interpreters, but files are still being processed extremely slowly if at all, he said.

“A hunger strike will have certain risks for your health, and we accepted this, because we have to save our families and we have to tell the public what is going on,” said Mr. Faizi, who expects more than 100 to take part in the protest.

A similar hunger strike was organized last September, which Mr. Faizi said was successful in getting the IRCC to listen to their concerns.

In November, Canada introduced a new immigration pathway for the extended family members of former Afghan interpreters who arrived in Canada under programs in 2009 and 2012. To qualify for the special program, which opened on Dec. 9, applicants must have been in Afghanistan on or after July 22, 2021.

The interpreters taking part in the hunger strike are calling on the federal government to help their family members leave Afghanistan, and to process their applications and assign file numbers. Mr. Faizi said they also want federal support for family members who fled Afghanistan prior to July 22, who are not eligible for the special immigration pathway and are at risk of deportation.

At a press conference in Ottawa, Jenny Kwan, NDP MP and critic for housing, immigration, refugees and citizenship, said continued delays in processing times for applications are putting lives at risk. She was joined by Mr. Faizi and other interpreters.

“What is going on with the Ministry of Immigration? Why is it that these family members cannot get their application processed so that they can rejoin their loved ones here in Canada?”

Former Afghan translators during a similar hunger strike last September, which Mr. Faizi said was successful in getting the IRCC to listen to their concerns.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

More than 300 extended family members of former interpreters have submitted applications through the federal government’s special family-reunification program, Ms. Kwan said. Both Ms. Kwan and Mr. Faizi said under the current program, not a single extended family member of former interpreters has arrived in Canada, despite hundreds of applications.

A majority of these family members of former interpreters who have submitted applications since December have not heard back from IRCC at all, not even a confirmation their application has been received, Mr. Faizi said. And although certain applications have been processed, applications submitted in January have yet to receive a case file number from IRCC.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said in an interview his office has been in touch with former Afghan interpreters to help develop the special pathway, and his office will continue to communicate with the group.

“I understand some of the intense frustration that they’re experiencing being separated from their families. We are working to get them here,” he said.

Despite working with partners in the region, Mr. Fraser said an added challenge in resettling Afghans is dealing with a “terrorist entity” that is not interested in co-operating with Canada. Delays in processing times can be attributed to a number of unique challenges, including ensuring applicants have the right document to travel and availability of flights to Canada.

After Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last year, the Canadian government promised to welcome 40,000 Afghan refugees. The arrival of 300 Afghan refugees on Wednesday pushed the total number to 10,000 so far.

After Ali (a pseudonym) was separated from his mother and siblings during the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport in August, the three-year-old was evacuated to an orphanage in Qatar. He was alone until finally reuniting with his father, who lives in Toronto, on September 13

The Globe and Mail

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