Afghan translators consider new life in Canada
By Bruce Ward
The Canwest News Service (Canada), October 5, 2009
Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan — Afghan translators who work for the military and other federal agencies at Camp Nathan Smith are divided about the prospect of fast-track immigration to Canada.
But seemingly all of them are eager to find out more details of the measures announced last month by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. The special-consideration provisions for the translators are expected to be implemented within the next few weeks.
'They say it's only for those whose lives are in danger, but that is all of us,' said Hassan, who like all interpreters cannot be identified in news reports for their own safety.
'All of our families are in danger from the insurgents, not one interpreter more than others. It's all of us,' he said.
'How do they decide in Ottawa who is in danger, and who is not?'
Kenney's announcement, delivered in the latest quarterly report on the Afghan mission, said that 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.'
Although he will carefully consider Canada's offer when all the details are available, Hassan doe not think he will take the opportunity to emigrate, even if he qualifies.
'I have some friends who have already gone to the United States after the Americans made fast immigration possible for their translators. But life is very hard there. They must work at long hours at low-paying jobs to survive.'
Although dangerous, Hassan's job gives him special status in Afghanistan, where the illiteracy rate is about 85 per cent..
'I speak English and I know computers. Not many in my country have these skills,' said Hassan, who is in his mid-20s. 'In Canada and in America, everybody knows English and computers. It would be much harder there for me to get a good job that pays well.'
Abdul, who is about 20 years older than Hassan, takes a quite different view.
'I would like to go to Canada for my children,' he said. 'I don't want this life for them.'
Abdul learned English while his family was living in Pakistan as he was growing up.
'When I a kid, I was always saying I wanted to go to school. One day my grandfather said to me, 'If you go to our cow in the field, you will get milk. What do you get if you go to school?'
'Things are changing, but that attitude is still not uncommon. I would like a better chance for my kids, so I want to know about everything the Canadian government is offering. But for now, in my heart, I think I will go.'
In his statement, Kenney said the government commends the bravery of the translators and recognizes the price 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.'
Kenney said he expects about 150 translators to apply to come to Canada, but the offer is only good until 2011, when Canada's current military mission in Kandahar comes to an end.