An Afghan military interpreter made it to Canada
For a year, Asad Ali Afghan waited for the federal government to complete the paperwork that would enable him to start a new life in Canada, the country where he served as an Afghan military interpreter.
After fleeing Afghanistan for Pakistan in November 2021, he and five members of his family waited nine months in a cramped hotel room in Islamabad while Ottawa approved the trip. They all made it to Winnipeg last August and settled in Delta, BC a month later.
But while he’s now safe from the Taliban, three of his loved ones still have targets on their backs.
“I talk to them every day and every night because I’m very worried about them,” Afghan said.
Two of his brothers and one of his sisters fled to Pakistan themselves. They had hoped to come to Canada as part of a special immigration program designed for former Canadian government or military employees in Afghanistan and their families.
When Afghan applied on behalf of his siblings, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) only replied that the process was ongoing.
But Canadian authorities never assigned case files to his brothers and sister, he said. When Pakistani authorities caught them in the city of Quetta, they had no way of proving they were headed to Canada.
Less than a month after arriving in Pakistan, they were back in Afghanistan, hiding in the border village of Spin Boldak.
Siblings fear arrest, torture – or worse
CBC News reached out to one of Afghan’s brothers in Spin Boldak. CBC has agreed not to identify him due to the dangers he faces.
“The Taliban arrested, tortured and flogged many Afghans,” he said. “They are known for assassinating those who helped foreign military.”
He said that he and his siblings rarely leave the house.
They spent 25 days in Pakistan, he said, before police told them they had three days to leave the country.
“The hotel people would ask every night, ‘What documents are you here for?'” he said. “So it was a tough time for us. We had no documents, no legal documents.”
Last October, the Pakistani government began running ads telling undocumented migrants that they would be deported or detained if they did not obtain legal papers allowing them to stay in the country by the end of 2022.
IRCC told CBC News it had received assurances from Pakistan that undocumented Afghan migrants bound for Canada would not receive such treatment.
No one from the Pakistan High Commission in Ottawa commented on this story. In the past, the diplomatic mission has told CBC News that Afghans who can show they are headed for Canada will not be deported.
“We are very concerned about the human rights abuses that the Afghans waiting are being subjected to,” said Zosa De Sas Kropiwnicki-Gruber, director of policy, advocacy and research at Amnesty International Canada.
The global headquarters of her organization wrote to Islamabad in December warning of the deportation of undocumented Afghans.
“It’s just taking too long and there are too many hurdles and a lack of regularization for Afghans who are waiting in this situation and there are rights violations every day,” said De Sas Kropiwnicki-Gruber.
Special immigration rooms almost gone: IRCC
IRCC declined to provide anyone for an interview for this story.
In a statement, the department said it was “aware of media reports of the detention and deportation of Afghans from Pakistan. There are currently no reports of IRCC customers being affected.”
When asked about a lack of case files for Afghan siblings, IRCC said it could not comment on individual cases for privacy reasons.
The department also said it had received applications for most of the 18,000 spots in the Special Immigration Measures program and recommendations for the remaining spots available.
“IRCC continues to send out invitations to apply for these additional transfers,” it said.
Both NDP and Conservative immigration critics told CBC News they had heard from other Afghans hoping to come to Canada who were being turned back to Afghanistan.
“What we’re hearing from people on the ground is that people are being deported, they’re not going to safety,” said NDP’s Jenny Kwan.
Her party is calling on the Canadian government to remove the cap of 40,000 Afghans it wants to bring here, calling it an arbitrary limit.
Her Conservative counterpart, Tom Kmiec, said he doubted Ottawa could bring more migrants here, given the struggle to meet its immigration goals since Kabul’s fall to the Taliban.
According to IRCC, 28,285 Afghans have arrived in Canada since August 2021.
Kmiec said Pakistan may be looking for a signal that allies like Canada could move refugees faster.
“It is part of government’s role to use its soft power [and] Process applications quickly,” said Kmiec.