Ottawa is finalizing a plan that will speed entry to Canada for Afghan interpreters and others who aid the Canadian government’s work in their country, along with their families, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino says.
When asked whether the government would also accept former employees of the Canadian embassy in Kabul, Mr. Mendicino said in an interview with The Globe and Mail that his inclination is to be as inclusive as possible.
“I’m very moved by the fear and the desperation that Afghans are facing right now with increasing severity as time goes on, and so that is motivating us to work very urgently to finalize this policy and to put it in motion and operation … My approach to this and I think our government is to be as inclusive as we can be,” he said.
Mr. Mendicino said the plan will be set in motion as soon as possible, but would not give a timeline.
Canada withdrew its armed forces from Afghanistan seven years ago. As the U.S. military pulls its troops out, Taliban insurgents have been expanding the territory they control. Afghans who worked for foreign governments during the past two decades of conflict have said they fear Taliban reprisals. People who worked for years as drivers for Canadian officials and embassy staff told The Globe and Mail recently they are not safe.
“Everybody within government knows that the situation is deteriorating rapidly in Afghanistan,” Mr. Mendicino said.
“We know that those Afghans who are readily identifiable to the Taliban are receiving death threats and so we want to get this launched as quickly as possible, and we will do everything within our power to move with that urgency.”
A former senior officer in Afghanistan who worked for the embassy for more than eight years said earlier this week that he has received death threats on several occasions from insurgents who learned about his affiliation with the Canadian embassy. The Globe is not identifying him because he fears retribution.
Mr. Mendicino said his department is working closely with the Department of National Defence, Canadian Armed Forces and Global Affairs Canada to determine who aided the Canadian government and that he could not yet say how many are being considered.
“I would encourage anyone who is waiting for some certainty on this to not rush to any conclusions about how broad this program is going to be because we are trying to take an inclusive approach in the way that we’re going to define it. And at the same time, my department is going to take the best advice that we get from DND and GAC, who know the individuals who supported us,” Mr. Mendicino said.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said interpreters and locally engaged staff provided Canadian troops with knowledge they needed to do their jobs. In an interview with The Globe, he said that along with translation, Afghan interpreters supplied vital information on culture and nuances. He said extricating Afghan employees of the Canadian government is an “absolute priority.”
When asked whether former embassy staff are included in the government’s plans, he said, “we don’t see any difference with anybody who worked for us.” Mr. Sajjan said interpreters provided important work, but he is talking about all former locally engaged staff.
Former national security adviser Richard Fadden said it is clear that all or most of Afghanistan will fall to the Taliban, and that the way they have treated opponents in the past suggests interpreters and others who helped the Canadian Forces can expect to be severely punished.
“Canada should not and must not cast aside those who made our mission there more effective than would otherwise be the case. We are not talking untold thousands, and our tradition of helping those in need makes clear we should act to bring to Canada as many of those who helped us as wish to come,” he said.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole on Thursday called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to set a date for when Ottawa will get Afghan interpreters and staff out of Afghanistan.
“There is no excuse why the Canadian government does not have a plan in action to save the lives of these brave Afghan interpreters and support staff,” Mr. O’Toole said in a statement.
Last week, NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan wrote an open letter to Mr. Mendicino calling on him to put in place a special immigration measure to provide immediate refuge to those who aided the Canadian government and their families.
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