Dozens of Afghan interpreters that worked with Canada’s military initiated a hunger strike on Parliament Hill Thursday to demand that the federal government do more to help their endangered families left behind in Afghanistan.
“We’re asking the government to find safe pathways for our families to emigrate from Afghanistan,” Ahmad Sayed, a former Afghan interpreter and organizer of the demonstration in Ottawa, told Global News.
“The process is very slow. The government promised they would bring our families in the first two or three months of 2022 but we don’t see any improvement. We don’t see our families,” Sayed said, noting interpreters have a permit to be on the Hill for three days.
Following pressure from interpreters, refugee advocates and veterans, the government introduced a special immigration stream in December to bring the families of Afghan interpreters to Canada.
But while hundreds of family members have applied to the program, the interpreters say none have actually made it to Canada.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has also confirmed to Global News that there have been no arrivals under the extended family public policy to date.
“Applications received under this public policy continue to be processed on a priority basis,” Julie Lafortune, a communications advisor with IRCC told Global News in an emailed statement Friday.
“However, the timelines for arrival will depend on where applicants currently reside, how country conditions impact our ability to process their applications and whether applicants have the right documents to travel and/or have the ability to do so.”
The IRCC was unable to provide a timeline of arrivals for all applicants under the program.
“We recognize that the situation in Afghanistan remains very challenging and that some applicants have a difficult time gathering documents and submitting complete applications,” Lafortune said in the statement.
Former interpreters are allowed to complete the application on their extended family member’s behalf as long as a signed attestation is completed by the applicant, the statement read.
To date, Canada has welcomed 10,025 Afghan refugees under all streams since August of 2021.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser has said the government is facing unprecedented logistical challenges getting people out of Afghanistan. But he has maintained that Canada has a moral obligation to make good on the commitment to help the families of Afghan interpreters.
Over the last several months, there have been 27 meetings with officials from IRCC to help fast-track the process, according to the group of interpreters.
However, nearly 300 families are still waiting to flee.
Sayed was an interpreter from 2004 to 2008 in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province.
“We worked with the Canadian soldier’s side-by-side. We have been along on missions,” Sayed said.
“We faced a lot of challenges. That was a military life that was really tough.”
It’s been nine years since Sayed moved to Canada and now he’s trying to get his parents and siblings safely to the country to join him.
“They are not safe,” he said. “The Taliban could take revenge on our extended families back in Afghanistan because of the work we did with the Canadian forces.”
— with files from The Canadian Press