British Columbia

'We are going to die': Afghan interpreters fear for their lives amid Taliban takeover in Afghanistan

Afghan interpreters were critical to Canada's military in Afghanistan and as aides to Canadians, particularly during the 2001-2014 mission.

Calls for Canadian government to help interpreters, families out of Afghanistan

Yousaf Abdulkhaliq, a 33-year-old Afghan interpreter who now lives in Richmond, B.C., is worried for his fellow interpreters still living in Afghanistan, and for his family. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Afghan interpreters who worked for the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan fear for their lives, and the safety of their families, as the Taliban takes control of the country.

Taliban insurgents entered the capital city of Kabul on Aug. 15 after previously taking control of Afghanistan's other major cities.

Khan, a 28-year-old interpreter in Afghanistan, previously worked for Canadian military operations in his home country. Now, he says he's been trapped in his home with his family for five days, trying not to be found or recognized by the Taliban — he worries they will kill him for working with international organizations.

CBC has agreed not to use Khan's real name out of concern for his safety.

Khan is calling on the Canadian government to help him and his family, and other interpreters escape from Kabul. 

"Please help us," he said. "Take us out of Afghanistan. If you don't get us out of Afghanistan, we are going to die."

Afghan interpreters were critical to Canada's military in Afghanistan and as aides to Canadians.

"We helped them a lot," Khan said. "We helped the Canadian Armed Forces with our lives. At that time it was very dangerous for us to work with the Canadian Armed Forces. The Taliban, then and now, they are killing the interpreters and their families."

Taliban spokespeople have said they would not seek revenge on former government officials or those who worked with international organizations. 

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks at his first news conference, in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday. Mujahid vowed Tuesday that the Taliban would respect women's rights and forgive those who resisted them. (Rahmat Gul/The Associated Press)

At a news conference Tuesday in Kabul, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid urged Afghans to stay and not flee, saying those with ties to international organizations would be "pardoned."

"The youth who have talents, we don't want them to leave. These are our assets. We would like them to stay here and serve," he said.

"We assure you that nobody will go to their doors to ask why they helped."

However, there have been multiple accounts this week of Taliban reportedly taking down names and seizing some property in residential areas.

"It's getting worse day by day," Khan said.

"The Taliban is asking for people, they are searching for people."

Yousaf Abdulkhaliq, 33, was an interpreter with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011.

He now lives in Richmond, B.C., but many of his interpreter colleagues and his family are still in Afghanistan.

"We are safe now in Canada, but our families are not safe," he said.

Afghan interpreter Yousaf Abdulkhaliq shows a garment made by his sisters in Afghanistan in Richmond Tuesday. It bears the flag of Afghanistan that Yousaf says is now banned by the Taliban. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

On Monday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Canada plans to send military aircraft into Afghanistan to airlift people out of the country in coming weeks. He said 807 people had already been evacuated to date.

In a statement, the Department of National Defence said flights will continue "as long as the security situation on the ground permits, and will focus on evacuating Canadian citizens, permanent residents and Afghan nationals who have an enduring relationship with Canada's mission in Afghanistan."

But Abdulkhaliq wants to know when and how they plan to do that; he said the biggest issue right now are bureaucratic processes to relocate people.

WATCH | Trudeau says Canada 'firmly condemns' escalating violence in Afghanistan: 

Trudeau says 'Canada firmly condemns the escalating violence' in Afghanistan

2 years ago
Duration 2:28
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau says over 500 Afghans have arrived in Canada from the war-torn country.

Abdulkhaliq said the passport system in Afghanistan is preventing people from leaving the country. He said a passport in Afghanistan costs upwards of $1,000 CAD, but because government offices have shut down, no one is working to get those documents filed, so even if people pay the fee they may not receive their passport.

He said some people he knows have been waiting more than five weeks for approval from the Canadian government to come to Canada, including Khan. 

Khan said he's been going back and forth with Canadian officials sending reference letters, proof of employment and other documents, but the process isn't fast enough.

While he understands the need to file paperwork, Abdulkhaliq said that can be done once people arrive in Canada. 

"They are going home to home, taking out people," Abdulkhaliq said of the Taliban.

"It's not the time for paperwork to be done in Afghanistan."

After all that they've done for Canada, interpreters are hoping Canada will step up for them. 

"We want our siblings, we want our brothers, we want our sisters, our mom, our dad, to get out of Afghanistan right now," Abdulkhaliq said. 

"We can't say before it's too late, because it's already late."

With files from Zahra Premji, Susan Ormiston, Murray Brewster and Reuters


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