As It Happens

Afghan interpreter believes Canada will help him — but he's running out of time

An interpreter stranded in Kabul says if the Canadian government doesn’t help him soon, it will be too late for him and his family.

A man who worked for a Canadian-funded police program says the Taliban will have ‘no mercy’ on him 

People coming from Kabul arrive at the Roissy Charles Gaulle airport after France evacuated several dozen people from Kabul in a military plane. Afghans who worked for the Canadian government are waiting for a similar response from Canada. (Francois Mori/The Associated Press)

Story Tranbscript

An interpreter stranded in Kabul says if the Canadian government doesn't help him soon, it will be too late for him and his family.

Bashir applied to the special immigration program for "Afghans who contributed to Canada's efforts in Afghanistan" two weeks ago, before his city fell to the Taliban. 

He received an automated confirmation email at the time, but hasn't heard anything since. He has no idea what the status of his application is, and the Canadian embassy in Kabul has shut down operations

In the meantime, he says he's been watching non-stop news coverage of U.S. jets carrying thousands of people to safety. 

"If the Canadian government announces that they will evacuate those who work for the Canadian government or helped the Canadian government in Afghanistan, I'm sure they will do it. But the thing is, they are very, very slow compared to other countries," Bashir told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

"We will see what will happen, if we can come out of this alive or not."

Bashir is one of many Afghans who assisted the Canadian government who are now waiting on tenterhooks to be evacuated from the country after the Taliban seized control of most of the country, including the capital of Kabul. He has asked CBC not to disclose his last name.

The federal government has created a special immigration program for Afghans who worked for the Canadian government, as well as one for Afghans from vulnerable groups, "including women leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, persecuted religious minorities, LGBTI individuals, and family members of previously resettled interpreters."

The government says it will bring as many as 20,000 refugees to Canada under the programs. 

"Afghans have put their lives at great risk to support Canada in helping Afghans achieve significant democratic, human rights, education, health and security gains over the past 20 years. We owe them a debt of gratitude and we will continue our efforts to bring them to safety," Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said in a prepared statement

As It Happens has reached out to the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship department for comment.

'Gone with the blink of an eye'

Bashir says he never thought he would see Afghanistan fall again under Taliban rule. 

He has spent years working to make his country stronger, including five years working with a Canadian-funded program to recruit women into the national police force. 

When he first got word that Kabul had fallen, he says he didn't believe it.

Evacuees crowd the interior of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, carrying some 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul on Tuesday. (Defence One/Reuters)

"I never, even for a single moment, thought that one day the Taliban will take Kabul and Afghanistan. I believed in the international community and our security forces," he said.

"But it is gone with a blink of an eye."

He says he's well known in Afghanistan for his work with foreigners, and now fears for his life, and those of his immediate family — his mother, brother, wife and nearly two-year-old son.

"My family is very much concerned," he said. "The level of uncertainty and the level of stress they are experiencing these days, they have never experienced before in their life."

'Why would they have mercy on me?'

When the Taliban last controlled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, it violently enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law. Those who didn't shape up — especially women and religious minorities — were whipped, imprisoned or executed.

"They kill children, women, teachers, professors, religious clerics, anyone. They have no mercy on them. So why would they have mercy on me?" Bashir said. 

But the militant group says things will be different this time, vowing "amnesty for all Afghanistan, especially those who were with the opposition or supported the occupiers."

The statement was met with skepticism from both Afghans and the international community, and Bashir says he doesn't buy it. 

A brutal crackdown is inevitable, he says. It's only a matter of when. 

"It's not the right time for them to do that, because they are being watched closely by the international community and by the media and by the people," he said. "But that will happen."

Since Kabul fell, Bashir says he's been mostly hiding out at home and watching the takeover unfold on the news. 

He says the only thing keeping him safe right now is that the Taliban likely doesn't yet know who — or where — he is. But he says all bets are off once the country's new rulers access government records and figure out who has helped foreign entities in Afghanistan.

He just hopes Canada comes through first.

"I'm optimistic that the Canadian government will do something to get people or evacuate people like me who are still in Afghanistan and are trying to go to Canada," he said.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Bashir produced by Kate Swoger.

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