The program will include “special immigration measures that will provide a pathway to protection in Canada for those at risk because of their work,” the statement said.
“Lives are at stake here,” Canadian Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters, “that’s why we are taking timely and decisive action. Canada will do the right thing for those who have done the right thing for us.
Mendicino said the government appreciates “that there is a need to act quickly and decisively, but we also need to do so safely given the very dynamic and rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.”
The announcement follows weeks of pressure on Ottawa from lawmakers and advocates to relocate Afghan interpreters and other residents. Some veterans said they were so frustrated with the lack of a government plan that they were using their own money to relocate former Afghan colleagues to safer parts of Afghanistan.
Governments of other NATO allies who fought alongside US forces have also been called on to do more to help Afghan interpreters or expedite their relocation. In Australia, a retired army general burned his service medals in protest at what he said was government inaction.
The United States said it plans to temporarily house thousands of Afghans, including interpreters, at Fort Lee, Virginia. Many Afghans have said their applications for special immigrant visas have been denied despite years of service in the US military and civilian. agencies, often without explanation.
Canada joined the US-led mission in Afghanistan in 2001 with many troops initially based in the provincial capital of Kandahar. Its combat role ended in 2011 when the country focused on training the Afghan army. Canadian soldiers left in 2014. A total of 165 Canadians, including seven civilians, were killed during the war.
In 2009, then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government announced a program to relocate Afghan interpreters – or “terps”, as they were known locally – who faced “extraordinary personal risk” due to of their work for the Canadian Forces. About 800 Afghans were resettled under this program, which ended in 2011.
Proponents had long criticized the program as too restrictive. Successful candidates had to have worked for the Canadian Forces for 12 consecutive months between October 2007 and July 2011. This excluded many Afghans who assisted Canada in the early years of the combat mission or for shorter periods.
Among them was an interpreter working with Canada in 2006 when a Taliban-propelled grenade killed Captain Nichola Goddard. The interpreter helped pull Goddard, the first Canadian servicewoman to be killed in action, from the turret of her light armored vehicle to receive first aid.
Andrew Rusk, Goddard’s brother-in-law and co-founder of Not Left Behind, a group that advocates for Canada to resettle Afghan interpreters and other Afghans, said the interpreter was ineligible for the original program because his service was prior to 2007.
For years, advocates have been pushing Canada to help those who have been excluded from this program. The Taliban’s aggressive push across Afghanistan as the United States ends its 20-year mission in the country has added new urgency to their efforts.
Retired Major-General David Fraser, who in 2006 led Canadian and American troops in the NATO mission in Afghanistan, was among three retired major-generals who wrote an open letter to Canadian officials this month urging them to quickly relocate Afghans who have helped Canada. war effort. He applauded Friday’s announcement.
“I’m glad the government did the right thing by creating a pathway for the Afghans who worked for us and whose lives are currently in danger,” Fraser said. He added: “The devil is in the details.”
Mendicino said it was too early to know how many people could be resettled, but he expects the numbers to be “in the thousands”. Canadian officials said teams are in Afghanistan to assess the security situation and to support resettlement efforts, but they did not provide specific details on when Canada might expect its first arrivals.
“For operational security reasons, the precise timing of this operation is extremely sensitive,” Mendicino said.
Canadian officials said they were also working with allies. The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Corey Shelson, a retired Canadian Army captain who deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 as a combat engineer, said he welcomed news of the program.
He said while he didn’t use some of his own money in resettlement efforts, he was a ‘link in a chain’ of individuals who recently relocated an Afghan man who helped Canada during the war and who was “hours after being captured and killed” in a safer part of Afghanistan with his family.
Shelson said he told her about the program moments after the government press conference.
“There are a lot of tears, tears of joy, shed by people in Afghanistan who were hoping for this kind of announcement,” he said.
He said he hopes they will start arriving in the country soon.
“Until you’re out of Afghanistan, you’re not safe,” Shelson said.