Resettled Afghan interpreters protest Ottawa's approach to extract families, remaining colleagues
OTTAWA -- A group of resettled Afghan interpreters gathered in downtown Ottawa on Tuesday to bring attention to the need for immediate government intervention to help their extended families and former colleagues who remain under threat from the Taliban.
The group of about 100, which also included veterans, brought signs that read “Help: evacuate our people” and “Our work has jeopardized our family members,” in an effort to raise awareness of the dire situation that many in Afghanistan find themselves in.
The Taliban claims it now controls about 80 per cent of Afghanistan after the U.S. began extracting its military forces – a move U.S. President Joe Biden announced will be completed by Aug. 31.
The first group of interpreters that assisted U.S. troops – approximately 220 people – arrived last week. All total, the U.S. has pledged to bring back about 2,500.
The Canadian government has also offered hope to potentially thousands of interpreters, locally engaged staff with the Canadian Embassy and their families who assisted the Canadian Armed Forces on their 10-year deployment.
“Without getting into precise numbers, we do anticipate that the numbers will be in the several thousand,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino when announcing the immigration pathway in late July.
A previous special immigration program settled more than 800 Afghan nationals – many of whom were demonstrating on Tuesday - and their families in Canada from 2009 to 2011 and a revised version of that program began in 2012.
However, veterans, advocates, and family members of those that remain stuck there have argued Ottawa’s newest application process is confusing, restrictive, and too extensive.
The application guidelines, which are written entirely in English, require applicants to gather and fill out at least three lengthy electronic forms that require computer and internet access in 72 hours.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the three-day timeline was a “mistake.”
“That 72 hours was a mistake, that we put out – actually it’s not going to be 72 hours,” he said last Thursday. “I can assure you that intense planning daily is taking place. I personally get daily briefings on this and things are moving very rapidly so that we can bring home all those Afghans safely.”
The demonstrators said they put their “lives at risk” for Canada and now it’s time for the Canadian government to help.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh commented on the situation on Tuesday, noting that the government’s efforts thus far don’t go far enough to secure these individuals’ safety.
“It’s got to be clear that those that supported us…have to be helped out,” he said, adding that eligibility for the expedited immigration process should be expanded.
“There are a lot of people in Afghanistan that need help and that helped out Canadians and that should qualify for support, should qualify for resettlement to Canada. So I think we need to be very broad in our understanding of the people that have been threatened.”
A government website about the special immigration measures states that applicants must meet all “usual admissibility requirements, including security, criminal and health screenings, and processing timelines will be expedited. Applicants will also be subject to existing COVID-19 public health measures and safety protocols.”
It also notes that due to security reasons, the identity of those being resettled and how they’ll be evacuated will not be made public.
Mendicino has previously stated that anyone confused about eligibility should contact his office directly.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says unlike the U.S., Canada is “stonewalling” heroes that served the country and must provide an immediate timeline detailing their plans to remove them.
"Faced with the prospect of life or death, these brave Afghans can't afford more incompetence from the Trudeau government. Justin Trudeau must immediately provide a comprehensive plan with a clear timeline for these Afghans and their families seeking refuge in Canada,” said O’Toole in a statement.
One veteran at Tuesday's rally reccomended that Ottawa process the immigration paperwork while applicants are already in Canada or in a safe third location.
"We need to ensure that we have an efficient process that doesn't rely on heavy paperwork in Afghanistan, we need to do something similar to our allies in other countires that allow Afghans to come here after proper vetting," he said.