Canada Welcomes Afghan Translators Until 2011

Canada welcomes Afghan translators until 2011

The Canadian Press
September 15, 2009 6:13 p.m.

OTTAWA – Canada is opening the door to fast-track immigration for Afghan translators who have worked for the army and other federal agencies, but now fear for their lives.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney made the long-anticipated announcement Tuesday, as the Conservative government delivered its latest quarterly report on the Afghan mission.

“There are Afghans who face extraordinary personal risk as a result of their work in support of Canada's mission in Kandahar,” Kenney said in his opening statement.

“We commend their bravery to help build a better Afghanistan while recognizing the price that they have paid. Their lives and those of their families may be threatened by insurgents, and some have suffered serious injury and can no longer work. To recognize their contribution, we will offer them special consideration if they wish to relocate to Canada.”

The measures, which Kenney first outlined last spring, will be implemented next month.

But it will only be a temporary window through which Afghans who've directly contributed to the Canadian mission are given special consideration.

The program has a sunset date of 2011, coinciding with the end of the country's military mission in Kandahar.

When he first discussed the proposal in an interview with The Canadian Press, Kenney said relocating translators and other staff to more peaceful parts of Afghanistan would be the first option explored before allowing them to immigrate.

But the minister conceded Tuesday that declining security throughout the entire country made that impossible.

Kenney said he expects as many as 150 people to take up the offer.

To be fast-tracked through the immigration system “applicants must demonstrate that they face individualized and extraordinary risk or have suffered serious injury as a result of their work with the Canadian government.”

A handful of Canadian companies have been hired to work in Afghanistan, most notably on the reconstruction of the Dahla dam, in northern Kandahar.

Kenney said translators and local staff hired by Canadian companies are also eligible, but the criteria state that they must have contributed to the Canadian mission.

“If they have been contractors to private organizations, that's not the Canadian mission per se,” he said.

The only private Canadian companies in Kandahar – outside of the federal contractors – are media organizations and the criteria would exclude their Afghan staff from the fast-track provisions.

Translators and fixers who work for Canadian news outlets are routinely threatened by Taliban militants, corrupt Afghan government officials and even local police.

Some have been wounded covering bomb attacks.

Last spring Javed Yazamy, a fixer for CTV, The Canadian Press and The Toronto Star, was gunned down near the governor's palace in broad daylight.

His killing has not been solved.