An Afghan family that fled Kabul as the Taliban took over the country in August has been stuck in Ukraine for more than a month while they wait for Canadian immigration officials to process their paperwork.
Since landing in Kyiv on Aug. 28, they have been staying at a hotel paid for by the Globe and Mail, whose reporter Mark MacKinnon assisted the family’s dramatic escape hours after two deadly suicide attacks outside Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The family from Kandahar now finds itself in limbo with no end in sight.
Haqmal is growing impatient, frustrated and concerned for his family’s well-being.
“We are heartbroken. We are really hopeless,” the 33-year-old told Global News.
“We are like prisoners living in this hotel,” he said. “I don’t know for how long more I will be waiting.”
It has been a long ordeal for the family that fled to Kabul back in July as the Taliban progressed to surround their hometown of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city.
As part of their advocacy work to help Afghans get asylum in Canada, staff members at a Liberal MP’s office helped raise funds to get Haqmal and his family out of Kandahar and into a safehouse in Kabul.
By early August, Haqmal said he had completed his biometrics at the Canadian embassy in the capital. He has already received facilitation letters from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for all his family members, including health insurance documents and ID numbers.
Yet, there is still no word on when they would be able to set foot in Canada.
Navigating red tape
Canada has committed to resettling 40,000 refugees from Afghanistan. So far, approximately 2,400 Afghan refugees have arrived in the country.
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In July, the federal government unveiled a new, expedited “path to protection” for Afghans who supported Canadian troops as interpreters, cultural advisers or support staff, as well as their families.
But the plan to resettle Afghan interpreters has been plagued with problems, delays and controversy as thousands like Haqmal continue to wait in Afghanistan or a third country.
Robert St. Aubin, who helped advocate and collect funds for Haqmal while working as a staff member for Marcus Powlowski, Liberal MP for Thunder Bay-Rainy River, said there is a lack of transparency and accountability from IRCC officials.
“One of the biggest issues is that the immigration department is so opaque, it’s just not clear what’s happening,” he told Global News.
“We are in the system and yet there seems to be no actual accountability to the democratically elected government when it comes to these officials.”
While Haqmal and his family were able to escape Afghanistan, St. Aubin said he is also in touch with other families that are still stuck in Kabul. Others are waiting in Islamabad.
St. Aubin said the “bureaucratic inefficiency” and delay are impacting human lives.
In an emailed response to Global News Tuesday, Peter Liang, a spokesperson at IRCC said the absence of stable conditions and the ever-changing circumstances around what exit documentation is required at check-points and international crossings into third-countries has made it “exceedingly difficult” to get Afghan refugees safely out.
“We are continuing to work closely with international and regional partners to expand on these operations. And we are also collaborating with a number of domestic advocacy groups, including veterans,” Liang added.
Jeremie Verville, a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces, first met Haqmal in Kandahar while serving as a platoon commander back in 2009, and has stayed in touch since then.
He said he has tried calling the IRCC to get some answers on his immigration status, but to no avail. He is now attempting to fill out the required paperwork to serve as a representative for the family and pursue his case.
“It’s been a hell of a ride for him to get out because he followed all the requirements,” Verville told Global News.
However, Verville is hopeful and optimistic.
“What I’m trying to tell him pretty much daily (is) ‘man, you’re safe … bureaucracy is sometimes long, but at least you don’t have to flee for your life anymore.'”
While he waits, health is a major concern for Haqmal, who is living with one kidney and has been taking medication to treat depression for the last two years.
His mother, in her 70s, is a diabetes patient. Finding medication without a prescription has been a struggle, he says.
Despite some financial help from Canadian military commanders both in Ukraine and Canada, the family is running low on funds.
”We need food, we need health support, financial support,” said Haqmal.
“Many times my mother is crying, my wife’s crying that in which situation we are. How long … will we wait in this situation?”