Canadian vets push to have Afghan interpreters fast-tracked to Canada amid U.S. pullout

Canadian vets push to have Afghan interpreters fast-tracked to Canada amid U.S. pullout
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TORONTO -- With the announcement from U.S. President Joe Biden that Americas troops would be pulling out of Afghanistan, the plight of Afghan interpreters, who also put their lives on the line alongside soldiers, is back in the spotlight.

More than 40,000 Canadian troops served in Afghanistan, and were eventually pulled out in 2014. Local Afghan interpreters were critical elements of Canadas and other NATO soldiers presence in the Middle East, often riding on the front lines.

In 2009, a special immigration program for interpreters and their families was set up, assisting around 800 former interpreters and their families in moving to Canada. However, that program ended in 2011, leaving thousands of interpreters behind.

Some continued to assist U.S. and other NATO forces, but with news of the U.S. withdrawal, Canadian veterans are campaigning for the country to step up and fast-track more visa applications.

Retired Lt.-Col. Mark Popov served side-by-side with Afghan translators when he was deployed and says their role was critical. Stating they put their lives at risk of being targeted and killed by the Taliban.

These interpreters were seen by the Taliban as traitors to their countries, sell-outs to foreigners and these interpreters were doing their best to make it safe [for the troops], Popov told CTV National News.

Popov and the other veterans who are a part of the letter writing campaign say time is of the essence to bring the interpreters to Canada, blasting the current red tape holding up the visa process.

Why we cant do this for people who have already taken great risks for our country is baffling to me We had these folks in our vehicles, with our lives depending on them, Popov said. I would gladly risk my life with any of these people again we need to get over the bureaucracy get over the paperwork and make things happen.

While Biden announced last week that the U.S. is creating an evacuation plan for interpreters who are waiting on U.S. entry visas, the withdrawal of American troops at Bagram Air Base this week has upped the pressure to get interpreters out, with many fearing whole families will be targeted and killed.

Retired Capt. Dave Morrow, who is also advocating for change, told CTV News the situation is critical .

Its life or death, Morrow said. Its only a matter of time before the Taliban catch up with these interpreters and thats why there is kind of a panic button moment right now.

Canadas NATO allies, including France and Germany, have already completed evacuations from the country, leaving Canadian veterans questioning the long wait for others.

Why did they have to wait? They kept Canadian soldiers alive and this is how we repay their courtesy? retired Cpl. Robin Rickards told CTV News.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship office told CTV News that the government recognizes the significant contributions of the brave Afghans who for us during Canadas combat mission in Afghanistan.

The statement reiterated that more than 800 Afghan nationals, including their family members, were resettled in Canada under the special immigration measure from 2009 to 2011 and a revised version of the program that began in 2012.

Afghans who were ineligible under the Afghan Special Immigration Measures may apply to immigrate to Canada through existing provisions under the immigration and Refugee and Protection Act, the statement read, adding that those who dont meet the criteria may apply for humanitarian and compassionate considerations, which are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

We are closely monitoring the evolving security situation in Afghanistan, the statement read.

That answer is not satisfying for Popov and the other Canadian veterans involved in the campaign.

They were at incredible amounts of risk and their families shared every hardship with us, Popov said. You probably wont find a soldier who wouldnt want them brought over.
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