Ottawa

Once captured by Taliban, journalist says Canada's resettlement promise is doomed

Qais Azimy is no stranger to the Taliban, having come face-to-face with its fighters more than once. Now the Ottawa resident faces obstacles trying to bring three families and 15 journalists to Canada. 

Former Afghan journalist faces obstacles trying to bring people to Canada

In 2007, Qais Azimy and three other people found themselves kidnapped by Taliban as they travelled through the Helmand province. He is trying to save others from the same fate. ( Hugo Belanger/CBC)

Qais Azimy struggles to sleep, managing two or three hours at a time, watching the Taliban sweep over a country he once called home. 

"I'm worried about the people who are stuck in the country," he said. "I know what's gonna happen to them. I went through that a couple of times in life."

Azimy is no stranger to the Taliban, having come face-to-face with its fighters more than once. The Ottawa resident now wants to bring three families and 15 journalists to Canada, but he faces obstacles.

"I was in Kabul when [the] Taliban first came in 1996. So the fact that I'm very useless, I [can] not do much, despite [being] in a country like Canada. It's very frustrating," he said.

Taking risks 

While he often worked for larger Western media outlets, starting as an interpreter, Azimy eventually became a senior producer with Al Jazeera English in Afghanistan. 

Although some journalists would report on the Taliban and its victims from a distance, Azimy was known for taking risks and travelling into Taliban territory. 

He said he felt a duty to inform others about what was really happening in their country, and be the voice of the voiceless. 

"Being a journalist, you have to take risks in a country like Afghanistan, otherwise you will not reach the truth." 

In 2007, Azimy and three others found themselves kidnapped by the Taliban as they travelled through the Helmand province, believing they had clearance to do so. 

At the time, the journalist believed death was certain. 

"Every few minutes, a soldier would come and give us a message. And that message [was] that we will be beheaded in 36 hours, 40 hours."

Although other journalists would report on the Taliban and its victims at a distance, Qais Azimy was known for taking risks and travelling into Taliban territory. (Facebook)

'Frontline of danger'

As proof, Taliban fighters would show the four captives videos of other beheadings, he said. 

He's still not sure what prompted the Taliban to release them, but now Azimy hopes to save others from the danger the Taliban poses.

He's focusing his efforts on three families, journalists and other friends. 

"I believe they are a priority because they are in the first frontline of danger," Azimy said. "Because of their previous job, their previous act, and their relationship with the previous government and with [the]Taliban."

While CBC News has agreed to withhold the names of those Azimy is trying to bring overseas, the Ottawan said one is a former senior official in the Afghan forces who was eventually promoted to overseeing part of Kabul that hosted embassies, including Canada's.

"The Taliban are looking for him. ... There's a serious search for him," Azimy said.

"One of the reasons he thinks he's a target is his relation with Canadians was more than any other."

Canada's promise added to chaos

The federal government has announced plans to resettle 21,000 Afghans who contributed to Canada's efforts in Afghanistan, including former workers such as interpreters, as well as other vulnerable people.

But Canada shut down its embassy in Kabul and suspended diplomatic relations as the Taliban advanced on the capital. Azimy expressed frustration that he was unable to reach any Canadian officials, only receiving automatic emailed responses.

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, processing applications is happening "in all parts of [its] network and so is not affected by the closing of the embassy."

On Thursday, Justin Trudeau said it would "be very, very difficult" to get as many people as Canada hopes out of the country.

"To get many people out, as many as we'd want, is going to be almost impossible," he said.

Azimy said Canada erred in announcing to resettle so many Afghans, which has only added to the chaos on the ground. The U.K. has matched the announcement, but this is an unrealistic goal without boots on the ground to process requests, he says.

"[Canada] made a mistake announcing the number they made, pulling out their diplomats from the country. And so they're insisting on those mistakes."

Canada needs to re-establish its presence within the country, said Azimy, who settled in Canada in 2017. He finds the current scenes in Kabul "heartbreaking" and "painful."

​​"I know the Taliban, they will not stand [by] their promise," he said. "You will see that the Afghan people would suffer the worst in human history, the current human history. And I know [the] Taliban are brutal."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joe Tunney reports for CBC News in Ottawa. He can be reached at joe.tunney@cbc.ca

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