Plan to bring Afghan interpreters to Canada being finalized 'as quickly as possible': minister
Conservatives calling on Trudeau to provide date for rescuing threatened Afghans who helped Canada in war
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino says a plan is being finalized to bring Afghan interpreters and their families to Canada "as quickly as possible."
The interpreters and other contractors, who worked for the Canadian Armed Forces during the Afghanistan war, now face retribution and possibly death from a resurgent Taliban.
Mendicino said his department is working with Global Affairs and the Department of National Defence to finalize "an operational plan that would create a corridor for Afghan interpreters, locally engaged staff and their families."
"We've already got teams on the ground who are assessing the security situation. Our intention is to put this operation into action as quickly as possible," he told The Current's guest host, Mark Kelley.
Mendicino did not specify a time frame or the process for the evacuations.
'We put ourselves in danger'
Afghan interpreters worked with Canadian troops during the war to connect them with local leaders, translate conversations and help build trust on the ground. Considered traitors by some in their country, translators say they live in fear of being attacked or killed.
Last month, The Current spoke to Abdul, a translator in Afghanistan who has received threats against his life and the lives of his family over the work he did with Canada's armed forces.
LISTEN | Interpreters, families face death threats:
"We put ourselves in danger … to help them," Abdul said. The Current is not using his full name over concerns for his safety.
"There's no hope in the future if they don't do anything for us," he said.
In 2009, Canada offered refuge to approximately 800 interpreters facing life-threatening risks in Afghanistan, but others have been left behind because they didn't meet strict requirements set out by the federal government. Canadian military involvement in Afghanistan formally ended in 2014.
Opposition parties urge swift action
Federal NDP defence critic Randall Garrison has seen the lives of interpreters threatened first-hand, when he worked in Afghanistan for Amnesty International before becoming a politician.
"We were told that once we had left that they would take revenge on our interpreters," he told The Current.
He said it's urgent that the government act swiftly, and that "if you monitor the situation, you'll end up with interpreters and their families dead instead of in safety."
We were told that once we had left that they would take revenge on our interpreters.- Randall Garrison, NDP defence critic who once worked in Afghanistan
The Conservatives have also backed calls for the government to expatriate those at risk, and on Thursday urged the prime minister to provide a date for when Canada will get those people out of Afghanistan.
"These brave Afghans risked their lives to help our military heroes. And in their time of need, we are abandoning them. It's patently un-Canadian and wrong," Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said in a statement.
"Other countries are taking immediate action to help Afghans who worked with their armed forces and ensure their safety, while Canada is dithering and delaying. There is no excuse why the Canadian government does not have a plan in action to save the lives of these brave Afghan interpreters and support staff."
Speaking in Montreal Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not specify a timeline, saying only that "it will be done quickly" and that Mendicino and the immigration department are working to "send some help very shortly."
U.S. to evacuate Afghans within weeks
Other countries have already begun to resettle Afghans who helped their war efforts. Interpreters who supported the British military were flown to the U.K. last month, Sky News reported.
At the end of July, the U.S. will begin the evacuation of potentially tens of thousands of Afghan interpreters and others who worked with their forces during the 20-year war. The first evacuations will move people to a safe third country or location, as yet undisclosed, while their applications for U.S. entry are processed.
When asked if Canada would consider a similar third-country approach, Mendicino said "all of the options are still on the table."
"We know that lives are hanging in the balance, and we know that there's a need to take timely and decisive action to support the Afghans who supported our armed forces," he said.
"But we have to be sure that we have the measures in place to protect the Afghans that we want to offer a corridor for, as well as the team who will be there to support them, so that we can pull off this effort with as much safety and security as is required."
Written by Padraig Moran, with files from Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Paul MacInnis and Ines Colabrese.
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