“We want people to join the Canadian family.”
If there were ever people who needed to hear those eight words from Canada’s immigration and refugee minister, it’s the Canadian interpreters stuck and running for their lives in Afghanistan.
The people who should be at the front of the line for entry into Canada may have found their saviour in new Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen.
The former refugee from Somalia tweeted out the invitation to join the “Canadian family” on Sunday.
He issued the tweet after being quoted saying much the same in a New York Times column by two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof.
In an article titled, “Canada, Leading the Free World,” Kristof writes: “President Trump’s harsh travel ban reflects a global pattern: All around the world, countries are slamming the doors shut. One great exception: Canada. It may now be the finest example of the values of the Statue of Liberty.”
"We want people to join the Canadian family."— Ahmed Hussen (@AhmedDHussen) February 4, 2017
"Nous voulons que les personnes rejoignent à la grande famille canadienne." https://t.co/1pgm4e83UQ
His piece talked a lot about Canada potentially taking in more Syrian refugees, and those who can’t get through new American immigration walls — potentially including interpreters to the U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There’s no mention of the 100 interpreters who served with our brave troops during Canada’s decade in wartorn Afghanistan.
The article also quotes Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland as saying: “If you’re Muslim, you’re very, very welcome here.”
You will have to forgive interpreters who were left behind — like Karim Amiry — for not feeling like Canada welcomes them.
In fact, as he and his peers elude death at the hands of Taliban and ISIS combatants, they feel betrayed by Canada.
“I have received a threat letter from the Taliban, who have a strong hold in my province,” Amiry tells me. “I moved my family.”
But they are only one step ahead of the killers. There are 100 other stories like this.
That’s the bad news.
The good news for interpreters is that there’s hope with Hussen — the MP for the Toronto riding of York-Weston — in charge. If anybody would ever understand their plight, it’s him.
Former veterans affairs minister Erin O’Toole reached out to his parliament colleague for help and briefed him on what is going on with these interpreters.
O’Toole, a Tory leadership candidate, did the same in the successful effort to get interpreter James Akam out of a refugee camp in Germany. His talking to then-minister John McCallum helped very much.
“Gave him files on the cases and asked him to move,” O’Toole tells me of Hussen. “He seemed aware of the general issue and seemed interested to help. I spoke with the new minister ... about the terps and particularly the case of the one who says he is at serious risk.”
They are all at risk. They are seen as traitors. They are heroes to our Canadian troops.
Canada has brought over 1,100 terps and their families in previous, now closed programs, but these are last ones — those who slipped between the cracks of bureaucracy and the world’s changing focus on the Afghanistan mission. That said, it’s not fair or Canadian to leave these people fending for themselves like this.
Something has to be done.
If there is no program to move them to the front of the line to come to Canada, then at least assign an immigration official to assist these people with the modern technology needed to apply as refugees or immigrants.
And waive the fees they can’t possibly afford.
They have already paid their debt to Canada. As Hussen says: “We want people to join the Canadian family.”
Let’s start with the very people who are already part of it and who helped so they could return to their families.