A year after Taliban takeover, advisers still pleading for help to bring families to Canada from Afghanistan

Some 45 language and cultural advisers were directly recruited by Canada's Department of National Defence to carry out dangerous assignments during the war in Afghanistan. Now, the Taliban is chasing some of their families in Afghanistan.

Family members being hunted, arrested by Taliban, say language and cultural advisers who worked with Canada

A file photo shows former Afghan interpreters who started a September 2021 hunger strike on Parliament Hill, demanding the federal government move faster to resettle their family members in Canada. Now, four former Afghan language and culture advisers are also asking for help, saying the Taliban is persecuting their families. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

While many people were able to flee Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul a year ago, the families of some Canadian citizens who assisted Canadian military forces are now being hunted by the Taliban government.

Some 45 language and cultural advisers — Canadian citizens who were recent Afghan immigrants — were directly recruited by Canada's Department of National Defence to carry out dangerous assignments during the war in Afghanistan. 

Their duties included gathering intelligence on the Taliban, warning of attacks and eavesdropping on insurgent communications.

Now, a year after some of these advisers asked Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to help their family members get out of Afghanistan, they say nothing has happened.

Four have filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against IRCC.

"All the killers I helped to put behind the bars are now on the streets. They recognize me," said Ahmad Malgarai, who is among the four men who filed the complaint. He served with the Canadian military in Kandahar from 2007 to 2008 and with U.S. forces from 2011 to 2016.

"The Taliban has visited my in-laws' house three times. They want to know who are the people who assisted the Canadian Forces," he said. "They are after my family — like wild dogs chasing them."

Since mid-August, his family has been on the run, Malgarai said, "living in abandoned, humanely unlivable places with animals."

"My family is paying the price."

Ahmad Malgarai, second from right, says he risked his life for the Canadian military in Afghanistan. His family is now in danger, but Canada has turned its back on him, he says. (Submitted by Ahmad Malgarai)

Malgarai says the Taliban forces want to detain his family and others to get information about the advisers. The Ottawa-resident has sought help from his local member of parliament, to no avail.

In addition to Malgarai, CBC spoke with the three other advisers who launched the human rights complaint. CBC is only using their military code names due to concerns for their family's safety.

Tales of Taliban's torture

Yousuf, an adviser who served with the Canadian forces from 2007 to 2009, was airlifted to safety, but his family could not accompany him. Two members of his family have been arrested, and others are also receiving threats, he said.

"My 85-year-old father was arrested by the Taliban and later died under their interrogation and custody," Yousuf said.

"My 16-year-old nephew was recently arrested by the Taliban and beaten for six hours continuously. One [interrogator] would get tired, another would continue the beating and keep questioning him, 'where is your uncle?'"

Both of those cases "satisfy the legal definitions of torture under Canadian law and international law," said Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor who is representing the four complainants.

"From a legal perspective, Canada is turning a blind eye to Taliban torturing, and in one instance killing a person, just because they were related to the advisers. It's also torture of a child that Canada is refusing to assist with."

Amir Attaran, a lawyer who teaches at the University of Ottawa, says Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is displaying 'first-class systemic racism' and discriminating on the ground of national origin and religion. (CBC)

Yousuf said Canada refused to bring his immediate family, but for local interpreters hired by third-party U.S. contractors, "even their neighbours were allowed" under the Canadian government's program.

A Toronto resident code-named Akbar worked with the Canadian forces from 2007 to 2009. Like others, he was cleared at the "secret" level or higher, in order to work with extremely sensitive files with the Canadian Forces.

Akbar's family, who received regular threats from the Taliban, was able to escape to Pakistan. He initiated a family sponsorship application for them, but his mother died during the wait.

"If Canada had acted sooner, my mom would be here with me, alive," he said.

In Pakistan, his family could be arrested and deported anytime, as they are illegally hiding there.

"If anyone else from my family dies, IRCC and the Canadian government will be responsible," he said.

IRCC declined to comment to CBC for this story.

'1st-class systemic racism'

Last year, Malgarai sounded an alarm about families even before the fall of Kabul.

On Sept. 15, the four people who filed complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission received a letter from the chief of staff for the former immigration minister, Marco Mendicino. He noted Canada had a program for helping former interpreters bring their families to Canada. However, the advisers weren't eligible for that program.

Malgarai requested a call with the minister that day.

Part of the letter shared by the chief of staff for then immigration minister Marco Mendicino with the four advisers on Sept. 15, 2021. The highlighted part shows the department acknowledged the families of 45 former advisers could not use 'existing pathways' for immigration. (Submitted by Amir Attaran)

On Oct. 24, Malgarai was able to speak with Mendicino for 40 minutes over the phone and was told help will be provided. When Sean Fraser became the minister, Malgarai emailed him but never got a reply, he said.

He's contacted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as former federal Conservative leader Erin O'Toole and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, he said.

"I even got my family's document personally handed to Trudeau's wife, Sophie.… There's nobody in the political elite that I didn't contact," he said.

"Our family is facing a certain death. Canada owes us a debt. At this juncture, IRCC must choose an amicable decision or answer a public litigation," Malgarai said.

Attaran said Canada was quick to act on the Ukrainian crisis by creating an immigration pathway that does not require the type of screening or documents that are still needed by the families of the advisers. 

In their complaint to the human rights commission, the four advisers allege "discrimination on the basis that IRCC substantially relaxed the requirements to enter Canada for persons of Ukrainian nationality — but without doing likewise for persons of any other nationality."

"This is first-class systemic racism. It's discrimination on the ground of race, national origin and religion," Attaran said.

"Because for white, Christian Ukrainians, doors are open. But brown, Muslim Afghans — the doors are shut."

He said there are significant questions about equality in Canada, since the government did not create a program for Afghan advisers but offered "a generous program for Ukrainians."

IRCC has a history of "infamous racism and discrimination," he said.

"We want a negotiated solution."

He is meeting with IRCC on Tuesday to proceed with negotiations with mediation from the commission.

Malgarai said Canada "has rolled out a red carpet for Ukrainians."

"We don't want that. We just want our family members and relatives to be relocated to Canada immediately," he said.

"We walked with the Canadian soldiers, but just because of my colour and religion I am not important.

"IRCC should deal with us in good faith."


Pratyush Dayal covers climate change, immigration and race and gender issues among general news for CBC News in Saskatchewan. He has previously written for the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, and the Tyee. He holds a master's degree in journalism from UBC and can be reached at