For the past few months, Jawed Haqmal has harboured deep disappointment in the Canadian military he once served.
He felt let down when the army, with whom he worked as a translator in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, did not evacuate him ahead of the Taliban’s takeover of the country this summer.
Later, after he was fortuitously rescued from Kabul by Ukrainian special forces, he wondered why he wasn’t welcomed onto the Canadian military base in western Ukraine – which seemed like an obvious place for a former military translator and his family to wait while their application for resettlement in Canada was being processed.
Now, the army has told him it will stop delivering groceries to his family, ending the only support it was providing to an Afghan who risked his life alongside Canadian soldiers – and who is now a refugee because of it.
When contacted by The Globe and Mail Wednesday, a spokesman for the military confirmed the grocery deliveries had been cut off, explaining that “the provision of humanitarian supplies to evacuees from Afghanistan falls outside the mandate” of Canada’s military mission in Ukraine. However, less than 24 hours later, the military reversed its stand and said it was committed to making sure the Haqmal family would continue to receive basic supplies.
Mr. Haqmal and his extended family of 12 have been living since late August in a trio of Kyiv hotel rooms paid for by The Globe, which helped organize their evacuation from Kabul. After the military’s decision this week to stop buying groceries for the family, The Globe sent money to help the Haqmals purchase food and other necessities.
“When I got their phone call saying that we can’t provide you deliveries [any more], I felt how alone I was in that moment,” Mr. Haqmal said Thursday before the military changed course. “Whenever these military guys needed me in Afghanistan, I put my life in front of them. But now when I really need them, they even can’t give me food?”
Mr. Haqmal said his family – which includes his pregnant wife and their four school-age children, as well as his infant nephew – had received three deliveries of groceries from the Canadian military during the 12 weeks they have been living in Kyiv. He estimated they were worth about US$50 each.
It was a small gesture of gratitude next to the risks Mr. Haqmal took while serving as a translator for Second Battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment while they were operating in the Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan in 2009. His decision to work for a foreign military led to death threats that prompted him to flee. He said his family home in Kandahar was recently taken over by Taliban fighters.
Sub-Lieutenant Alex Roy, a spokesman for the Canadian Joint Operations Command Headquarters, said the grocery deliveries had been “a grassroots on the ground effort by deployed soldiers to help a family in need.” Sub-Lt. Roy said that while the military was “proud” of the initiative, it was outside the mission of Operation Unifier, which has seen about 200 Canadian soldiers deployed to a sprawling military base in Yavoriv, in western Ukraine, since 2014. Their job is to help train Ukrainian soldiers for their war against Russian-backed separatists in the southeastern Donbas region.
On Thursday, Lieutenant-Commander Julie McDonald said the military was committed to finding a solution that would ensure the Haqmal family would not be “left high and dry” while they waited for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to process their application for resettlement. She said two local church groups had agreed to supply groceries to the family and that the military was willing to resume deliveries if that arrangement fell through.
“We have made it our business now to make sure they’ll be fed,” she said. She denied that the military had only decided to keep helping the Haqmals after being contacted by The Globe.
Mr. Haqmal said Thursday that he had not heard from the military since being told the groceries had been cut off. He said he had not been contacted by any church charity or other organization offering to help.
The deliveries are badly needed, particularly as the family’s resettlement has taken far longer than expected. The 15-day visas the family received on arrival in late August have expired, meaning they are now in Ukraine illegally and risk arrest whenever they leave their hotel rooms.
Meanwhile, Mr. Haqmal’s pregnant wife, Waranga, has fallen seriously ill and has required repeated trips to the hospital. Paying for that care has forced Mr. Haqmal to withdraw all the money raised via a GoFundMe campaign organized by Captain Jérémie Verville, a veteran who worked alongside Mr. Haqmal in Kandahar.
Mr. Haqmal praised the generosity of the individual soldiers he served with, many of whom have donated money to help the family with its mounting costs. But he said the top brass appeared indifferent to the fate of Afghans like him who had once been vital to the military mission in Afghanistan.
He knows he’s actually one of the lucky ones. He remains in contact with a group of former Canadian military translators and other staff who are still trapped in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The situation for some 1,700 Afghans with ties to the Canadian military dramatically worsened earlier this month when a network of safehouses – managed by a non-governmental organization spearheaded by Canadian veterans of the Afghan war – collapsed when the NGO ran out of money before the former military staff could be evacuated.
Some of those former cooks, guards and translators are now living in tents; others are in hotels they can only afford for a few more days. All fear what will happen to them if they are discovered by the Taliban, which have carried out several gruesome executions of Afghans who co-operated with NATO forces during their 20-year presence in the country.
“I am in a WhatsApp group with them. Believe me, every time I see their situations my eyes become full of tears. That’s how bad the conditions [are for] these peoples who are left behind,” Mr. Haqmal said.
The Haqmal family’s prolonged stay in Ukraine has put a strain on relations between Ottawa and Kyiv. After the fall of Kabul, IRCC issued laissez-passer documents to the Haqmals that said they were “Canadian citizens” – they are not – who “have been granted a visa to enter Canada.”
The Ukrainian government expected the family would be swiftly taken to Toronto. But the Haqmals have instead been left in limbo, with no explanation from IRCC as to why their resettlement has been delayed.
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