“Waiting for our death”: Afghan military lawyers beg Canada’s help

A former Canadian military lawyer says a group of Afghan lawyers and other staff who helped his mission in Afghanistan have been ‘left in the dark’ and urges Canada’s immigration department to act quickly to help them escape the Taliban.

It’s been a year since Canada began accepting fugitive Afghans through its one-year special immigration program for Afghans who helped the Canadian government, set up just weeks before Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021.

To date, approximately 17,170 Afghans have arrived in Canada. Last month, the Liberal government closed its immigration program to new applicants, less than halfway to its goal of bringing 40,000 Afghans to Canada.

“Whether [Canada] would not act on my request and as soon as possible I could lose my life,” said Popal, one of the Afghan military prosecutors who applied for the program, and whom CBC has agreed not to identify.

Moore, center, stands surrounded by military colleagues in Afghanistan. Popal, whom CBC has agreed not to identify as he is currently in hiding from the Taliban, stands to Moore’s right. Popal told CBC he struggled to feed his family while they were in hiding. (Submitted by Cory Moore)

“When Popal called me for help, it tore me apart,” said retired Major Cory Moore, a former Canadian Armed Forces legal officer who has served three times in Afghanistan.

Moore is helping 12 candidates and their families apply for this program and is still awaiting news from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on the fate of these 66 people. Their applications were submitted between September and December 2021.

The group includes military prosecutors, criminal investigators, security personnel, recruiting video participants, a doctor and a journalist.

The 12 Afghans were involved in various capacities during Moore’s mission to help strengthen the legal branch of the Afghan National Army. He created a project to recruit Afghan law graduates, making a recruitment video that aired nationally from 2012 to 2021.

As a result, eight female military lawyers were hired as military prosecutors and criminal investigators, in what Moore calls “historic precedent.”

A man is sitting at a table and looking at the camera.
Moore worked with several Afghan prosecutors and other personnel during his last assignment to bolster the legal branch of the Afghan National Army. He helps 12 of them and their families escape the Taliban and immigrate to Canada. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

“During the time we were shooting the video, it was a particularly dangerous time in Kabul when I had a target on my back,” he said.

“They never left me. They never cut and ran…That’s why Canada can’t turn its back on them now.”

“We are losing hope”

Popal, who appeared in this recruiting video, served as an Afghan army prosecutor for 10 years.

Via WhatsApp video chat, Popal said he and his family were in “extreme danger” due to his involvement in the recruitment scheme.

Please get us out of here.– Maryam, Afghan military lawyer

“We are losing hope and…we are just waiting for our death,” he said in Dari, through an interpreter.

Popal, who broke down in tears during the conversation, said it has been a difficult year for his family. His children can’t go to school or appear in public spaces, and he can’t work, so it’s been difficult to put food on the table. The family faces “serious threats”, he said.

“The danger we face is because we helped Canadians.”

Five women stand side by side with their faces blurred.  Some wear military uniforms.
Five of the eight female military lawyers recruited by Moore during his mission in Afghanistan. Maryam, who spoke with CBC via video chat, is in the middle. She says her family is experiencing severe psychological stress caused by the wait to flee Afghanistan. (Submitted by Cory Moore)

Maryam, whose identity CBC has also agreed to protect because she is also in hiding, is the first of eight female lawyers hired as a result of Moore’s project. (Three of the attorneys have yet to be considered, Moore said.)

It has prosecuted Taliban members accused of infiltrating the Afghan National Army. She has also investigated sexual assault cases involving Afghan servicemen who committed offenses against army nurses.

“I am in danger because of this position,” she said in Dari, through an interpreter.

Maryam spoke about the mental health impact the wait has had on her and her family.

“We all have psychological issues, psychological issues,” she said, pleading through tears, “Justin Trudeau…please get us out of here. Please evacuate. us from here… We can’t live here anymore.”

Silence from the Ministry

Moore contacted IRCC several times this spring about the status of the 12 applications.

“I couldn’t hear anything,” he said. “They explained that none of the 12 candidates… appeared in their system.”

After seeking clarification from other agents, Moore said one of them told her this: “She explained that if you were eliminated at the initial screening stage, you are not not officially invited to do [an] application … and if you do not receive such an email, your file simply disappears.”

WATCH | Moore recounts how the Afghans helped his mission:

Former Canadian military lawyer urges Canada to help Afghans in hiding

Former legal officer Cory Moore helped 12 Afghan legal officers and other personnel apply for Canada’s one-year special immigration program for Afghans. This program has since been closed, but these families still have no answers.

To date, none of the 12 Afghans has received an email from IRCC regarding the status of their application. The government website asks applicants to “wait for us to contact you” once an application has been submitted.

“They don’t get anything. They’re just left in the dark,” Moore said.

“[For Canada] closing the door on a group of people who have been so intimately involved in helping me succeed in my project is unfathomable.”

Two men look at a laptop on a desk.
Moore is seated next to Abdul Razaq Khan, an Afghan interpreter. Khan interprets a conversation with Popal and Maryam, two lawyers currently stranded in Afghanistan. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

By speaking publicly, Moore wants to underscore how critical each candidate has been in helping him and the Canadian military.

“There’s no doubt that Afghanistan has been bettered because of their work with me,” Moore said. “And quite honestly, I think Canada is a better place with this great group of people.”

Tight timeline a “slap in the face”

Tamar Boghossian, an immigration lawyer at Boghossian Morais LLP, helps Moore with the case. Last week, she filed and updated all 12 nominations.

Boghossian said all 12 candidates met the government’s eligibility criteria, which she described as “very vague”. The government only lists two examples of people who can apply–Afghan nationals who have worked at the Canadian embassy or interpreters–but adds that the program “is not limited to” these professions.

The problem, Boghossian said, is that the program has “zero transparency.” The short timeline is also problematic, as the one-year program has already expired, she added.

“It’s a slap in the face…to those who really helped the Canadian government,” Boghossian said. “Why can’t we help these people in return? »

A black laptop.
Afghan lawyers spoke to CBC via video chat about what life is like in the Taliban underground. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

She explained that most of the people who applied for this special program do not have the proper documents or passports and find it difficult to get them because they are in hiding.

She urges the Trudeau government not only to extend the deadline for applications, but also to increase the number of people Canada will receive.

“40,000 applicants is not a lot, you know, Canada having been in Afghanistan for almost 15 years,” Boghossian said.

Government decision ‘shameful’, MP says

At a press conference last month, Tory MP and IRCC Shadow Minister Jasraj Singh Hallan called the Liberal government’s decision to end its year-long program “shameful”.

The Conservatives are among those calling on the government to reopen the special immigration program, and Hallan said it was Canada’s “moral responsibility to help those who served alongside our country”.

“The government’s decision to close [special program] is inadmissible,” Hallan said.

A politician at a podium speaks into the microphone.
Conservative MP Jasraj Singh Hallan speaks during a news conference July 21 on Parliament Hill. He criticized the Liberal government’s decision to end the special immigration program for Afghans. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the government’s assertion that other immigration avenues remain open to Afghans is “misleading.”

“It’s just a rejection,” she said.

The ministry is working “as quickly as possible”

On behalf of IRCC, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s office said it could not comment on the cases of the 12 applicants for confidentiality reasons.

The ministry said it had received 15,210 applications under the special program and had approved around two-thirds of them so far.

“We are working to process applications as quickly as possible,” wrote Aidan Strickland, the minister’s spokesman, noting that the Afghan resettlement initiative is particularly difficult.

Strickland said the eligibility criteria are meant to “be as inclusive as possible” and may include cooks, drivers and other personnel who have helped the Canadian military.

“We have accomplished a lot, but there is still work to do,” she wrote.

The office did not say whether it would reopen the program.

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