A 10-year-old girl was shot and killed by the Taliban while her family was waiting for the federal government to bring them to Canada. Her father had worked for the Canadian military in Afghanistan and they had been approved for resettlement.

The family was driving through a Taliban checkpoint in Kandahar on Dec. 10 when gunmen fired on its vehicle. Aman Lara, an organization that’s providing support to Afghans who meet Canada’s resettlement criteria and is working to get people out of the country, confirmed that the family is on its evacuation list.

Bashir, the father of Nazifa, the girl who was killed, told Global News through an interpreter that he is asking the Canadian government “to help us get out of this country, and get us out of this fear we are living in now.”

Eleanor Taylor, a retired Canadian lieutenant-colonel and volunteer chief of staff at Aman Lara, said the family of five – a mom, dad and three children – had been approved for resettlement to Canada, but didn’t have passports, so they were in Kandahar to get them. Ms. Taylor said the family needed passports to apply for a Pakistani visa so they could try to escape the country overland.

Ms. Taylor said Nazifa was shot in the eye, the father’s aunt was also killed, and others in the car were severely injured. Ms. Taylor said she saw a photo of Nazifa after the attack and it was horrific.

She said the little girl was at the top of her class, learning English, and excited about coming to Canada. Her dad was a carpenter for the Canadian military, and had worked at a camp that was well known to the Taliban in Kandahar. Ms. Taylor said Bashir strongly believes he was targeted because of his work with the Canadian government.

“It’s horrible and it underscores the urgency of this situation,” she said. Ms. Taylor added that there are “many people who have approved applications,” but her organization can’t move them because they don’t have passports.

She said Canada-bound Afghans have to put themselves at extreme risk to get their passports, and she’s heard stories of people being arrested at the passport office, or targeted after they pick up their passport. But this story “has been the darkest and the most horrifying example of what failing to resolve this issue means for people.”

Alexander Cohen, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, said Nazifa’s death is “tragic and heartbreaking.”

“We condemn this senseless act of violence by the Taliban, and our thoughts are with her family at this extremely difficult time.”

Mr. Cohen said the brutality of the Taliban, a terrorist group under Canadian law, remains “the chief obstacle in helping Afghan refugees escape to safety in Canada. We will continue to judge the Taliban by its actions.”

Mr. Cohen said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has been working to process applications as quickly as possible. He said thousands have been fully processed for people within Afghanistan, but leaving the country is extremely challenging because of the Taliban’s interference and shifting requirements for documents in the region. He said Ottawa continues to work with allies and partners to find new routes out of the country.

The federal government has been criticized for the pace at which it is resettling Afghan refugees, by opposition MPs, veterans and volunteer groups that have worked for months to help. Afghans inside and out of the country have said Canada has abandoned them.

In July, the government said it would resettle thousands of Afghans who worked alongside Canadian troops and diplomatic staff through a special immigration program. Ottawa later announced it would welcome 20,000 vulnerable Afghan refugees, such as human-rights advocates, journalists and LGBTQ individuals, and later doubled its resettlement target, promising to bring 40,000 Afghan refugees from high-risk groups to Canada. Mr. Fraser has said it will take two years.

Ms. Taylor said she believes Canadians are settling into the idea that it will take a while to bring people outside of Afghanistan to Canada, but that those inside the country desperately need help.

“For those people who remain in Afghanistan, if we can’t find a solution urgently to this passport problem, then we leave them to die.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole called the news of Nazifa’s death horrific and heartbreaking.

“It is a parent’s worst nightmare, and Canadians mourn the loss of Nazifa. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family,” he said in a statement. He said the government needs to explain why the family could not get out of Afghanistan in time.

The Globe and Mail, December 16, 2021