After long battle, Afghan interpreter arrives in Canada
Published Friday, August 3, 2012 7:09PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, August 3, 2012 7:23PM EDT
An Afghan interpreter who risked his life by working for the Canadian military in the war-torn country has finally reached safety on Canadian soil.
Sayed Shah Sharifi landed at Toronto’s Pearson Airport Sunday, beaming with happiness and relief.
He had been trying to get to Canada for more than two years, keenly aware that he was a prime target for Taliban insurgents who denounce anyone helping foreign armed forces in Afghanistan.
After a crushing rejection, it took a 600-plus page submission to Canadian immigration officials, a pro-bono Toronto lawyer and media exposure for Sharifi to finally get a visa.
“It was really risky for me in Afghanistan,” Sharifi told CTV News Channel Friday.
When he called his mother to tell her he had arrived safely in Toronto, she reported that their next-door neighbour, an Afghan police officer, was shot dead “just 20 minutes ago,” Sharifi said.
“Maybe I was going to be the next target,” he said, adding that insurgents have “no mercy” for anyone considered to be allied with “the enemy.”
Sharifi said his initial application for a Canadian visa was rejected on the grounds that he did not provide enough information to prove that his life was in danger because of his line of work.
After a Toronto Star reporter in Afghanistan wrote about the interpreter’s plight, Sharifi says the story appeared to ruffle some feathers and his application was rejected again.
Still, the interpreter had plenty of support from Canadian military members he had worked with for three years, until 2010. Many of them sent in letters of support hoping it would boost Sharifi’s bid to flee the country.
Philip Hunter, a medic in Canada’s army reserves, was one of them.
He had befriended Sharifi in Afghanistan and the two kept in touch after Hunter was redeployed to Canada.
But when communication between them suddenly ceased, Hunter assumed the worst.
“I thought…his work had caught up with him and he had been killed,” Hunter told CTV News Channel.
When Hunter found out his friend was still alive and trying to come to Canada, he submitted an affidavit vouching for Sharifi and his story.
“I was certainly a first-hand witness to a number of exceptional things that Sayed did and I also was a witness to some of the dangers that he faced,” he said.
Hunter said his motive was simple, not political: “My priority was just getting back in touch with a friend.”
He greeted Sharifi at the airport on Sunday, a moment he described as filled with “elation, relief, happiness…that my buddy is here now.”
Sharifi said he hopes other interpreters who helped the Canadian military will also be able to escape Afghanistan.
“I was not fighting just for myself,” he said, noting that many of the 500 or so interpreters who worked with the Canadian forces over the years are still in danger, especially in the country’s volatile southern region.
As for himself, Sharifi said he’s looking forward to a fresh start.
“(Canada) is a really beautiful country,” he said. “Everything is really good here.”