Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to help Afghan interpreters as calls intensify to bring former employees of the Canadian government to Canada.
As the U.S. military withdraws its troops from the war-torn country, Afghans who worked for foreign governments are fearful of Taliban reprisals. Former drivers for Canadian officials and embassy staff told The Globe and Mail this week that they are not safe and fear for their lives.
Mr. Trudeau was asked specifically about interpreters who served alongside the Canadian Armed Forces while speaking to reporters in Quebec on Wednesday.
“Canada has been working over the past many years to repatriate Afghan interpreters. We pulled out our military a number of years ago. We will continue to work to ensure that we’re providing the right paths and I can assure you that our ministers are working on that,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Canada withdrew its armed forces from Afghanistan seven years ago and, with the U.S. withdrawal, has been urged to swiftly resettle interpreters and staff because they now face an increased likelihood of retaliation from the Taliban.
A former senior officer in Afghanistan who worked for the embassy for more than eight years said 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.
He said he heard that current staff at the embassy have received visa forms, but that former staff are being ignored. He’s hoping to bring his family to Canada.
The former senior officer said he knows of many other officers from development, political or other sections who worked for the embassy for several years like he did, and who are now also being ignored. Most of them, he said, have been warned by insurgent groups in the past and are increasingly concerned for their lives and the lives of their families.
Abdul Qayum Hemat, a former long-time driver for the embassy, told The Globe recently that there are 10 other drivers in need of Canada’s help. He said he drove Canadian staff to military bases, hotels, embassies and restaurants, and made trips to the airport and the market, for 13 years.
“Everybody feels that Afghanistan won’t be a safe place, especially for the people who supported the NATO forces, the embassies, the United Nations, foreigners. … We will be the first target for the Taliban and the other terrorist groups in Afghanistan. We are not safe,” Mr. Qayum Hemat said in a recent phone interview from Kabul.
When asked specifically about whether the Canadian government would assist the former embassy drivers, Alexander Cohen, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, said for security reasons “we do not comment on specific operational matters of our missions abroad.”
“We are currently working to assist some individuals previously or currently employed by the Canadian government in Afghanistan, who wish to come here,” he said.
Mr. Cohen said last week that more than 800 Afghan nationals, including family members, were resettled to Canada under two previous policies. Afghans who were not eligible under the policies, he said, may apply to immigrate to Canada through existing provisions under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
A government source told The Globe last week that Ottawa is quickly working through individual cases to move them through the immigration and refugee system. The Globe is not identifying the official because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the issue.
The official said 40 Afghans, most of whom were interpreters, while some served in other roles, have indicated that they want to come to Canada, in addition to Afghan staff who work at the Canadian embassy. The official said the government is expecting more.
The Globe and Mail, July 14, 2021