Thunder Bay·Superior Morning

Canadian veteran 'stuck' in efforts to help Afghan translator 'escape the consequences' of helping him

A Canadian veteran who has served three tours in Afghanistan during his 11 years with the Canadian Armed Forces says he's becoming increasingly frustrated and has reached a dead end, in trying to rescue the Afghan translator who worked alongside him since his first overseas deployment in 2006.

Thunder Bay's Robin Rickards has been trying to bring translator and family to Canada for more than 6 years

Robin Rickards (middle) spent 11 years with the Canadian Armed Forces and served three tours in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2010. During his time overseas, he said he met and worked with a translator in the war-torn country. (Robin Rickards)

A Canadian veteran who served three tours in Afghanistan during his 11 years with the Canadian Armed Forces says he's becoming increasingly frustrated and has reached a dead end, in trying to rescue the Afghan translator who worked alongside him since his first overseas deployment in 2006.

Robin Rickards of Thunder Bay, Ont., said his translator, James, whose real name is being protected due to concerns for his safety in Afghanistan, was initially hired by a company operating out of Kandahar. But after some time, James became the team's "standard interpreter" as his services were "routinely" used by the armed forces during Rickards's deployments in 2006, 2008, and the fall of 2009.

"Amongst the interpreters that I've met, [James] is probably the most sincere and the most diligent," Rickards told CBC's Superior Morning.  "What struck me about James is the responsibility he seemed to exude. He was sort of mature beyond his years."

Rickards first met James when the translator was 20 years old. Today, James is a father of two young children and is concerned about who will take care of his children if something happened to him.

"We have to take care of the people who took risks to protect our soldiers." - Robin Rickards

People in Afghanistan who served alongside Canadian and American armed forces, including translators, are seen as traitors in their war-torn country and live in fear of being attacked, or killed, said Rickards.

"It's been a case of James having to be exceedingly cautious in the way he goes about his day-to-day life," Rickards explained. "The information is out there, the knowledge is out there that he translated for the Canadian forces and the U.S. forces."

Rickards said that in 2018 a supervisor of a construction crew, who worked on a project for the Canadian Armed Forces in Kandahar, was followed and attacked in Kabul while he was walking on the street.

"He heard somebody say, 'that's him,' and he was attacked and had his neck slashed across from side to side," Rickards added. "It's a pretty staggering injury and he's very fortunate to be alive." 

Robin Rickards said individuals in Afghanistan who helped the Canadian and American Armed Forces are seen as traitors. This man was attacked in 2018 in Kabul after working as a contractor on a project with the Canadian Armed Forces, Rickards said. (Robin Rickards)

Increasing concerns for James's safety

Rickards said as soon as he returned home from his overseas tours, he started researching how he could bring James and his family to Canada.

"The first thing I did was look at the process for being recognized as a refugee and being resettled," Rickards said. "I found that the biggest stumbling block for James was going to be the fact that he didn't have a UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] number."

According to Rickards, James would need to travel outside of his home country in order to claim refugee status.​​

There are mothers in Canada who are not grieving because of the work James did.- Robin Rickards

In James's case, he would have to go to Pakistan to make the refugee claim, disclose what he had done and document why he believes he would be politically persecuted in Afghanistan.

In addition to that, Rickards said James would be "exposed for a long time," while he waits for the process of claiming refugee status and finding a country that will take him and his family in, to be completed.

More communication but same outcome

Rickards said he's been trying to bring James and his family to Canada for the past six years.

He said, despite the change in the federal government in 2015, "unfortunately, although there has been more communication, the outcome has been exactly the same."

"We have to take care of the people who took risks to protect our soldiers." 

He said he's been in touch with local members of parliament and had recently made a visit to MP Don Rusnak's office to inquire about sponsoring James and his two children.

Robin Rickards said he worked with his translator during all three of his overseas deployments since 2006. (Robin Rickards)

"Based on CIC's (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) guidelines, to be acceptable, I probably need to raise between $20,000 to $30,000 to cover the cost of James's first year in Canada," Rickards said, adding that it has been "challenging" to raise that amount of money from his friends and family.

"There are mothers in Canada who are not grieving because of the work James did and that needs to be recognized by the Canadian government."

He said he was recently advised by Rusnak to reach out to the sponsorship agreement holder representatives to find out about a clause "that allows a sponsorship agreement holder the discretion to take a refugee who hasn't had a determination by the UNHRC yet and sponsor them to come to Canada."

Rickards said he has not "had any luck in actually making contact with the sponsorship agreement holders representative in Thunder Bay in the past few months."

"I'm stuck if I'm going to help James escape the consequences of helping us," he said, "Without help, it's simply a matter of time."

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