A 10-year-old girl was shot dead in Afghanistan while her family was preparing to flee to Canada under an immigration program for Afghans who worked for the Canadian Forces, multiple sources said Thursday.
The girl, Nazifa, was killed when gunfire erupted near a Taliban checkpoint in Kandahar on the night of Dec. 10, her father and the Canadian veterans group Aman Lara told Global News in interviews.
The father had worked for the Canadian military in Kandahar until 2011. The family was approved for resettlement by Canada, but was stuck in Afghanistan due to the lack of evacuation efforts.
“I can confirm this family did have approval to come to Canada, and they didn’t make it out in time, and it’s a very poignant example of what can happen,” said Kynan Walper, an Aman Lara spokesperson.
Nazifa’s father Bashir said his daughter was a top student and was learning English to prepare for her new life in Canada. (He asked to be identified only by his first name for safety reasons.)
She was returning from a family wedding at about 11 p.m. on Friday when the car she was in cleared a Taliban checkpoint, but then came under gunfire.
The vehicle hit a building and caught fire. Nazifa died instantly and three others were injured.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s spokesperson called the killing “tragic and heartbreaking.”
“We condemn this senseless act of violence by the Taliban, and our thoughts are with her family at this extremely difficult time,” Alexander Cohen said.
The Conservatives said a parliamentary committee set up last week by opposition parties would examine what happened.
“We need answers from the federal government as to why this family could not get out of Afghanistan in time,” said Conservative leader Erin O’Toole.
It’s unclear why the Taliban shot at the family’s vehicle. Bashir said they may have been targeted because he worked for the Canadian and U.S. forces, but there were also indications it was a result of Taliban negligence.
Bashir’s brother-in-law Mohammad said the driver of the vehicle thought he had been cleared to pass through the checkpoint, but when he did so, the Taliban started shooting.
The family was in Kandahar to prepare their applications for Afghan passports, which they needed to enter a neighbouring country like Pakistan and make their way to Canada, Bashir said.
“I am requesting the government of Canada to help us get out of this country, and get us out of this fear we are living in now,” said Bashir, speaking through an interpreter.
Bashir said he was a carpenter for the Canadian Forces from 2006 to 2011. Walper said the family had been approved to come to Canada but was among the many unable to leave Afghanistan.
“I can confirm that this individual was a family member of a primary applicant who had a connection to the Canadian Forces,” he said. “He had worked alongside Canadian Forces and that work put them at significant risk.”
Aman Lara confirmed the family was on its list of evacuees it was trying to assist, and said the death showed the risks resulting from delays in Afghan resettlement efforts.
“There was a 10-year-old girl who was shot … when she should have been on her way to Canada. This was avoidable and it was bound to happen, and it’s going to happen more,” Walper said.
“We need to do better, and I understand that everyone’s trying, but we need to do better, we need to pick this up,” he said.
“We need to get the log-jams resolved, wherever they lay, whether it be through flights, whether it be through ground movements, whether it be through co-operation with other countries, we need to continue this with a renewed urgency so this does not happen again.”
While the Canadian government has said it would resettle Afghans who helped the military mission in Kandahar, four months after the Taliban seized Kabul, fewer than 3,800 have arrived. Another 1,755 have come to Canada through a humanitarian program.
Thousands more remain stranded in the country due to the suspension of evacuation flights, and border control measures in neighbouring countries that prevent them from fleeing.
Cohen said thousands of applicants had been fully processed but that “leaving the country is extremely challenging due to Taliban interference and shifting requirements in documentation both from the Taliban and countries in the region.”
“We continue to work with our allies, and an array of other partners, to find new routes for Afghans to leave the country and make their way to Canada.”
As it seeks international recognition and the resumption of foreign aid, the Taliban has vowed not to retaliate against its former enemies. But given the Taliban’s long history of killing Afghans who supported the international forces, locals who worked for the Canadian military fear they will be targeted.
The United Nations deputy high commissioner for human rights, Nada Al-Nashif, said this week that despite an amnesty announced by the Taliban, there were “credible allegations” of more than 100 killings of former Afghan national security forces and others tied to the former government.
“At least 72 killings were attributed to the Taliban, and in several cases the bodies were publicly displayed,” she said.