U.S. House passes bill to expedite visas for Afghan interpreters; no plan yet from Ottawa
TORONTO -- In a near unanimous vote, U.S. lawmakers have agreed to expedite visas for Afghan interpreters hoping to escape Afghanistan as the Taliban regains territory.
The first cohort of relocation flights are expected to take off from Afghanistan by the end of July, and when they land they will be provided temporary housing and services by the Department of Defense on the base at the request of the Department of State, according to a spokesperson.
Ottawa still has not released a plan or a timeline for the Afghan interpreters who aided Canadian troops, despite mounting calls for accountability and action from Canadian veterans and members of the public.
“I have received a lot of death threats from [the] Taliban because of my job with the Canadians,” an interpreter named Purr told CTV News.
Purr said he spent eight months working the Canadian Armed Forces.
“We need out of Afghanistan as soon as possible, if our lives are precious to the Canadian government,” he said.
Purr and his family are in grave danger from the Taliban, he says, adding that the group have flagged all seven of them as traitors.
In light of Ottawa’s delays, Canadian veterans and members of the public have stepped in to use their own resources to help.
Military historian with the Royal Military College of Canada Sean Maloney, who completed 11 tours of Afghanistan as a civilian, has pivoted to that mission – helping Afghan allies get to safety.
“The murder squads they’ve got going around, that’s real,” Maloney told CTV News of the Taliban’s hunt for interpreters and support staff who aided foreign troops. “I am getting that [information] from a bunch of people and they’re utterly terrified.”
Maloney described the Taliban “showing up at the door” and taking the fingerprints of those they suspect worked for foreign countries. “If you’re in the database, you’re gone,” he said.
“Right now I'm talking to people that are in hiding that have avoided the fingerprint scans and the roundups and they've gotten out of certain areas,” Maloney said. “That will expand throughout the country, and more the Taliban takes control.”
National security and policy expert Kamran Bokhari of the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington, D.C., described the situation facing the interpreters as “grim.”
“They are definitely in danger,” Bokhari said in an interview with CTV News. “The fate of these interpreters that have been left to the mercy of the Taliban, their situation is pretty grim.”
Bokhari said that the situation on the ground is complicated with many areas returning to Taliban control, but despite none of the 34 provincial capitals being taken, the interpreters still have “no protection.”
“The state that is supposed to protect them can’t do it effectively, especially in areas that are beyond the reach of Afghan security forces,” he said. “They have every reason to be terrified.”
The logistics of evacuating interpreters and their families is no simple task, especially without the aid of the federal government, including identifying who qualifies for evacuation.
A previous special immigration measure for Afghans who worked with the Armed Forces settled more than 800 Afghan nationals and their families in Canada from 2009 to 2011 and a revised version of that program that began in 2012.
Back then interpreters needed 12 months of service between 2007 and 2011, as well as proof that their lives were in danger.
A previous statement emailed to CTVNews.ca from the Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino’s office said that Afgan interpreters who were ineligible under the special immigration measure can apply to immigrate to Canada through existing provisions under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and those who meet those criteria may apply for humanitarian and compassionate considerations which are assessed on a case-by-case basis – but that process can take years.
And while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland both reiterated earlier this week that Canada’s plan would be coming “soon” – for now, Afghan interpreters and their families are left waiting.
“We have no doubt our people there are at extreme risk right now,” Maloney said. “This is murder.”