He’s been shot at twice and also survived a suicide bombing attempt, but those attacks pale in comparison to life under Taliban rule, according to Zahed Mohammed.
Mohammed has been living in Calgary since 2012, having spent six years working as an interpreter with the Canadian Armed Forces and NATO forces back in 2006 in Kandahar.
“It’s unbelievable because people cannot believe this could have happened… Our families are in shock, seeing all these things (that are) going on,” he said.
For weeks, Afghans have been fleeing their country in mass evacuations as the Taliban take control of Afghanistan.
Mohammed believes his father was targeted and killed by the Taliban because of his job. Through tears, he described his family’s perilous journey, moving from house to house to avoid detection by the regime.
“(My brother told me) they killed (our father) very brutally.
“He was on the way from the mosque early in the morning, when he was shot in the chest,” he said.
“He was killed in 2013, because I was working for NATO forces. Since then, I’ve been moving around my family in the province and out of the province. They’ll stay in one house for three to four months, (and then) move from there to another house. It’s not just my story. It’s every interpreter’s story.”
Mohammed has been on a mission to bring his siblings to Calgary and said he has been emailing and calling the Canadian government about their status but has not received a response.
In Calgary, he tells Global News his family has had to burn all of his documents in Afghanistan, linking him to Canada and NATO allies — for fear of Taliban reprisal.
“When this started, I told my family to burn it, and (anything) that has had to do with my job, they had to burn,” he said.
Mohammed said he’s sharing his story in hopes the Canadian government will take notice and help resettle the thousands of Afghans looking to flee their homeland in search of a safer life in Canada. The big concern is how to evacuate Afghans through Taliban checkpoints to their airport.
“They have blocked all the borders, Taliban are on the border, and they don’t want anyone to go out of the country, and even if somebody succeeded to go out of the country, then they won’t have money to support them.”
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Calls for help from retired Afghanistan veterans
Unfortunately, Mohammed’s story is not unique, and is shared by many interpreters and their families hoping to get out of Afghanistan safely.
Among them, language assistant “John” who has been given an alias for fear of retaliation. His friends Mike and Daphne ter Kuile, both of whom are Afghanistan veterans, have been watching the situation closely, and are urging the Canadian government to do more to assist.
“It was very, very personal to see — just like any other veterans that served — what was happening there.
“It really cuts to the soul when you see all that work that we did with Afghans to improve their country,” Capt. (Ret.) Mike ter Kuile said.
“There were significant leaps from education, to getting employment, going to community projects in the different villages and stuff for something as simple as well, which we would take for granted about access to water, to see all that being lost.
“And the people that we worked with, that helped us achieve our mission — let alone them in their goal to improve their country — are now at risk.”
John is still in Afghanistan with his wife and children. Through the ter Kuiles, he expresses fear for not himself, but for his family.
“The Taliban has already been to his father’s home looking for him.
“He said they went to his brother’s house as well. But you know, (the family) is hiding. They don’t go out of their house. They don’t leave their home at all,” Daphne ter Kuile said.
“They’re in greater danger now that nobody is there to protect them. And when we were sent there, initially to save lives, and to not do that now is 100 per cent unconscionable,” Lt. (ret.) Daphne ter Kuile said.
The ter Kuiles are calling on the government to help Afghans and their families who have supported Canada throughout the years and to speed up evacuation efforts.
For now, they’re still in communication with John but worry about time running out for him and his loved ones.
“I don’t think I want to tell you what my biggest fear is as a woman. Because I know what kind of horrendous things go on over there.
“My greatest fear is not hearing from him again, ever again,” she said.
Statement from ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
So far, roughly 1,000 Afghan refugees have been evacuated as part of the first phase of the ministry’s Special Immigration Measures program.
In addition, a Canadian Armed Forces flight evacuated 188 people from Kabul on Friday, with plans to evacuate more in the coming days, read a statement from spokesperson Alex Cohen.
Cohen said the ministry will be contacting people in Afghanistan when it is time to go to the airport, and CAF personnel will be coordinating with their allies, adding two Canadian C-17s will be making regular flights to Kabul.
In addition, 40 Afghan refugees have finished their quarantine and will be joining their new communities in Canada and will be resettled in 34 communities across the country, Cohen said.
“The next phase of this situation will be a refugee crisis, as humanitarian needs continue to grow and Afghans flee to neighbouring countries. Canada is ready to respond, and we’re leading the world as the first country to announce a humanitarian program for Afghan refugees.
“In the coming months, we’ll welcome 15,000 vulnerable Afghans who’ve been forced to flee their country, focusing on women leaders, human rights defenders, religious and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ individuals and others.
“Family reunification was one of three pathways announced in the policy, along with Government Assisted Refugees and Privately Sponsored Refugees. We are prioritizing the processing of family reunification applications of immediate family members of Canadians, permanent residents and protected persons,” read the statement.
Afghans interested in the Special Immigration Measures for Afghans who worked for Canada can visit this link to find out more information.
Canadians and their loved ones currently in Afghanistan can contact Global Affairs at this hotline can visit this link for information here.