An organization that raised money to get interpreters out of the Taliban’s reach is winding down its fundraising campaign today.
The Veterans Transition Network is returning to its core operations, but is still pushing Ottawa to save the lives of those it promised to help.
Ottawa has so far resettled just over 6000 Afghans through its humanitarian program. Of those who assisted Canadian forces during their time in Afghanistan, 10,270 people have been approved, but less than 600 have landed.
“It has been a challenging and frustrating eight, now nine, months,” Oliver Thorne of the Veterans Transition Network said.
Veterans Transition Network wants the federal government to make changes to its policies for Afghanistan refugees, including changing some biometric requirements for refugees, as was done in the case of Ukrainian refugees.
The process of coming to Canada can be stalled by policies like the biometric requirements, which ask for refugees to provide fingerprints and a photo in order for an application to be approved. Thorne points out that these policies don’t match the urgency of the need for people to escape.
“Where our frustration exists is with a government policy that doesn’t feel aligned with real needs of evacuation,” Thorne said.
For former interpreter Fida and his family, a stalled application has meant eight months trapped in a room in Pakistan, their VISAs expired, desperate for any word on an escape to Canada.
“I am really concerned for future of my children,” he said. “They are deprived from school, have never been to school.”
Retired Major-General Denis Thompson advises Aman Lara, a non-profit of veterans and former interpreters which is at the forefront of evacuation efforts.
He said money from donations and from government is now desperately needed to get Afghans out, but so is bigger action from Ottawa.
“Personally, I think this is a situation where a minister has to step in and make things happen, and that has not been done,” Thompson told CTV News.
The minister responsible, Sean Fraser, turned down an interview request, but in a statement his department detailed the challenges of evacuations from a country controlled by the Taliban. The statement added that they are still making efforts to continue to bring as many vulnerable Afghans to Canada as possible.
ADJUSTING TO LIFE IN CANADA
One of Afghanistan’s top legal minds, Wahida Rahimi, is one refugee who made it to Canada. But she said she is still adjusting to life as a refugee in Vancouver, while many other Afghans still remain in limbo.
“Maybe it takes some time to feel free,” she told CTV News.
Rahimi is a powerful woman, one of the judges forced to flee when the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan last summer.
Hers was a storied escape, aided by an anonymous Canadian philanthropist and a baroness of the U.K. House of Lords.
Now, she and her family are settling in B.C., and she said she is determined to trace a new path.
“Being a lawyer, being a person who can work as a human rights defender, because that is something that is really needed,” she said.