Afghan employees of Canada’s embassy in Kabul had urged Ottawa in 2012 to set up a special immigration program because of the risks they faced working for the Canadian government. But it took almost a decade for such a program to be implemented in July of this year, as the Taliban were already on an offensive sweeping through Afghanistan to power.
Thousands of Afghans who had worked for the Canadian government or military and their families remain stranded and in hiding after not being able to get through a heavily guarded airport and onto evacuation flights out of the country ahead of the U.S. withdrawal on Monday. They fear the Taliban regime seeks retribution for their work with Canada.
A government letter between two deputy ministers, which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, showed that Canadian embassy staff in Kabul asked in 2012 for a special immigration program “in recognition of the dangers they face in Kabul as a result of their employment with the Government of Canada in Afghanistan.”
If the program had been implemented nine years ago, the chaos of trying to rapidly evacuate staff after the fall of Kabul could have been avoided, according to a former senior employee of Canada’s embassy in Kabul who shared the letter with The Globe. The Globe is not identifying the individual because they still have family members stuck in Afghanistan.
The letter is from Morris Rosenberg, who was deputy minister of foreign affairs at the time, and it is addressed to then-deputy minister of citizenship and immigration, Neil Yeates.
Mr. Rosenberg wrote that the Kabul-based staff submitted a proposal to his attention, requesting a special immigration measures (SIM) program similar to one developed several years earlier in Kandahar, the epicentre of Canada’s military mission in the country from 2001 to 2011.
He wrote that the proposal was drafted after consultations among the Kabul-based staff. It included an overview of the situation in Kabul at the time, “including references to the many security threats (targeted killings, suicide attacks, improvised explosive devices, kidnappings, night letters and intimidation tactics) that LES and their families are exposed to on a daily basis.” LES refers to Locally Engaged Staff, the bureaucratic term for Afghan employees.
“The increase in security incidents in Kabul is also highlighted,” Mr. Rosenberg wrote.
When The Globe asked about the letter on Wednesday – and why the federal government did not implement a special program when locally engaged staff had asked for one – a spokesperson for the Immigration and Refugee Department raised the program put in place in Kandahar.
Maryn Lynn said that, in 2009, the Canadian government introduced a program for certain Afghans who served as local staff in Kandahar – including those who assisted the Canadian Forces and Global Affairs Canada.
Ms. Lynn said in 2012, the government implemented a revised policy to reassess those who were not successful previously, and in total more than 800 Afghans including relatives, were resettled.
“The SIM program was put in place in recognition of the risk that Afghans working for us, and their families, faced as a result of their support to Canada’s civilian and combat mission in Kandahar, which ended in 2011,” she said, adding that Afghans who were not eligible could still apply to immigrate to Canada through existing provisions, and those who did not meet immigration criteria could also request humanitarian and compassionate consideration. Those cases, she said, were considered on a case-by-case basis.
But the embassy staff had sought a program in Kabul that mirrored the one implemented in Kandahar.
The letter shared with The Globe said that records from the Canadian embassy in Kabul show that 82 individuals had worked there between its opening and 2012. At the time the letter was written, there were 53 Kabul-based staff.
A special immigration program for Kabul staff would require a number of factors to be studied, such as eligibility criteria and a start date, Mr. Rosenberg wrote in 2012. It would also necessitate extensive consultations between federal departments – including Foreign Affairs, Immigration and Refugees, and Defence – as well as the Privy Council Office and other partner agencies.
“Notwithstanding the above considerations, the concerns expressed by the Kabul-based LES in the enclosed proposal convey the risks they face by virtue of their employment with the Government of Canada, and, as such, merits further attention,” the letter said. “I would be happy to discuss this matter further with you and other members of the whole-of-government community on Afghanistan to ensure that the proposal receives the due consideration it deserves,” the letter concluded.
Two Canada-bound Afghans describe the daring operation by Ukrainian soldiers that managed to get them and their families into Kabul airport and onto an airplane out of the country. The plane carrying fixers and translators, including one who worked for The Globe and Mail, touched down in Kyiv on Sunday.
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