Afghan interpreters who helped Canadian soldiers were warned they have just 3 days to apply for resettlement


Afghan interpreters and others who assisted the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan are being given only three days to apply for a new government program to resettle in Canada.

Canadian and American troops on a joint patrol in late June 2011. Afghan-Canadian advisers were critical to the operations of both armies during combat operations.(Murray Brewster/The Canadian Press )

Afghan interpreters and others who assisted the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan are being given only three days to apply for a new government program to resettle in Canada.

The federal government announced last week a temporary new program to help interpreters and their families flee what Ottawa describes as a rapidly deteriorating situation in the war-ravaged country.

Those workers are believed to face a growing risk of being targeted by the Taliban, which is making significant gains as the United States withdraws its combat forces from the country.

"If they happen to be in an area that's controlled by the Taliban or influenced by the Taliban, then their lives are in immediate danger," said retired major-general Denis Thompson, who commanded a security task force in 2008 and 2009. "And not just their lives but the lives of their families."

But prospective applicants for the resettlement program learned today that they have just three days to submit their applications, which require the completion of multiple online forms and the scanning of documents.

"If you do not provide a completed application package within the next three days, we will conclude that you are not interested in participating in this Public Policy," reads a section of the email sent to prospective applicants.

"I can't imagine any other government on the planet creating an ultimatum for people that are in desperate need of help and assistance," said retired captain Dave Morrow.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has not responded to a CBC News request for comment on the program's deadline.

'There is panic on the ground'

Thompson said the three day window is "frankly, not very realistic" for many people facing Taliban reprisals. Others share his concern that a lack of reliable internet access and other logistical hurdles could prevent some former interpreters from accessing the program.

Morrow said that asking applicants "to fill in a long form for immigration and for asylum in a country like Afghanistan, in the middle of a war where you're fighting to save your life, seems absurd."

Dave Morrow, a retired Canadian infantry officer and veteran of the war in Afghanistan, says the three-day deadline is needlessly restrictive.(Submitted by Dave Morrow)

"There is panic on the ground," added retired captain Corey Shelson in an email to CBC News. "The truncated timeline will force Afghans to take exceptional risks to get to Kabul quickly."

According to a U.S. government estimate from 2018, only 13.5 per cent of Afghans have access to the internet.

"We are profoundly troubled by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada's recent ultimatum to our Afghan [locally employed civilians] that they must fill in new documentation in the next 72 hours or forever be denied entry into Canada," wrote the advocacy group Afghan Canadian Interpreters in a news release.

"This unprecedented urgency will cost lives."

Canada identifying those eligible for resettlement

In addition to interpreters, cooks, drivers, cleaners, construction workers, security guards and staff employed at the Canadian embassy may also be eligible for the program.

Global Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence say they are working to identify and assist people eligible for resettlement.

Thompson said that people identified by the government should be allowed into Canada immediately, where they could then complete the required paperwork.

"In our opinion, that's probably good enough to get them over here to do the remainder of the immigration process," he said.

The United States recently pledged to resettle as many as 35,000 Afghan interpreters and their families. They will be allowed to stay at U.S. military bases in Kuwait and Qatar for up to 18 months while their immigration applications are processed.

The Canadian military was in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014. Canada ended its combat mission in 2011 but kept soldiers in the country for another three years to help train the Afghan National Security Forces.

According to Ottawa, more than 800 Afghans who assisted the Canadian war effort already have resettled in Canada.

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