Family safely out of Afghanistan after a long struggle
December 14, 2021, 11:03 am
World-Spectator editor Kevin Weedmark's Afghan interpreter, Qasem Sidiqi and his family are safely out of Afghanistan. They are now in Islamabad, Pakistan, and were invited to the Canadian High Commission in Islamabad, where their information was prepared for their Visas to Canada.
The family has been accepted to come to Canada under the Special Measures for Afghan Interpreters and their families but, as for many, it was a struggle to get out of the country.
Kevin Weedmark wrote this column about his thoughts on the situation, and the fact that his interpreter's entire immediate family—including the young twins born in February of this year—are now safely out of Afghanistan:
To me, July feels like a lifetime ago.
It was in July that the interpreter who worked with me in Afghanistan, Qasem Sidiqi, contacted me to tell me that, with the Taliban rapidly retaking the country, his life was in danger.
I spent some time in Afghanistan back when there were Canadian troops at Camp Julien in Kabul and Canadian aid agencies were starting the work of rebuilding an entire society after the last time the Taliban were in control.
It was an amazing time to be in the country, when there was almost no infrastructure. I landed in Kabul with $20,000 of U.S. cash (there was not an operating ATM or a way to use a credit card in Afghanistan at the time), a few hypodermic needles and rabies antidote because of some of the places I would be going in the country—very far from any medical services.
Afghanistan was a dangerous place back then, even with foreign troops in Kabul. A French journalist was killed while I was in Kabul, beheaded by an assailant on a passing motorbike. A large number of election workers were killed on the outskirts of Kabul.
While I was in Afghanistan, I was on the phone with Kara at one point when there were some loud bangs and the building I was in started swaying, and it wasn’t immediately apparent if it was a bomb blast or a small earthquake.
A woman working with Care International, Clementina Cantoni, who I worked with on one story, was kidnapped by the Taliban while I was there, and thankfully later released after massive protests by the people of Kabul that such a wonderful person had been kidnapped.
The Canadian Program Support Unit in Kabul had found a driver/interpreter for me. He was there every day as I made my way around Kabul and the surrounding country.
I put my life in Qasem's hands. On a few occasions, when we were in a public place, a crowd would start to gather (Afghans were not used to seeing foreigners as most stayed within their compounds or military vehicles), he would take a look at a couple of people at the fringe of the crowd, and let me know it was time to get back in the vehicle.
On one occasion I was taking photos near the destroyed Darul Aman Palace and he told me to very carefully retrace my steps as there were landmines all around. On another occasion I was purposely in a minefield, taking photos of deminers at work, with a doctor and ambulance standing by for me at the edge of the minefield just in case something went wrong.
On another occasion, when I was taking photos on a hilltop, we were surrounded by dozens of machine guns and were blindfolded and had our hands tied behind our backs, but once they discovered I was a journalist, we were fine.
That's what Afghanistan was like when the combined militaries of several western countries were enforcing the peace. Imagine what it is like now, as the Taliban have retaken control, reprisal killings are commonplace, people have been forced from their homes and summarily executed by Taliban militants, the economy and systems like health care have collapsed.
When I was contacted in July by Qasem, saying his life was in danger, I knew I had to do everything I could to help.
He had remained in Afghanistan and built a good life for his family, and built a career, but knew he needed to leave once the Taliban was closing in.
The Canadian government set up a special program for immigration of Afghan interpreters and their families. He applied, and I was contacted immediately by the Strategic Joint Staff of the Canadian military to vouch for him and provide any documentation I had.
All sorts of people helped with getting that documentation together. Tina Ongkeko at News Media Canada dug up documentation on the original contract with the Canadian International Development Agency that sent me to Kabul. I was able to supply documentation, articles, and a photo I had taken of my interpreter from my time in Afghanistan.
He and his family were vetted and approved, but the Canadian flights didn’t get into Kabul when originally planned, Kabul fell to the Taliban, and the task of getting to the airport became very complicated.
Lots of people tried their best. One very senior government official was on the phone with me at 2 am our time, 4 am Ottawa time, as a planned evacuation went sideways. Interpreters were to meet at a specific site, a vehicle was to come from the airport and get them safely to the airport, but when people saw a few people gathering, more started gathering thinking it might be a way to get out, and I was in the position of trying to give advice from thousands of miles away as I was told there was now gunfire at the meeting site and my interpreter needed to know if he should stay or go.
There were many more struggles between that time and now.
Travel out of the country is dangerous, but my interpreter made it out to Pakistan overland, a very dangerous route, and his family have been flown out, and now they are all safely out of the country.
There have been many struggles and hardships for them until they all managed to get out of the country safely.
I tried to do what I could at this end. I'm sure I have the contact information for every Canadian government official in Islamabad, the middle east, and a few in Ottawa.
Every time there was a snag or delay in the family's progress, another email went out and things seemed to move along.
A lof of people have been asking about their progress and asking how they can help, and many have done what they can to move things along.
As the family has permission to come to Canada and is on track for permanent resident status, it should be a fairly straightforward matter now to get to this country to start a new life in a free and safe country.
If you have never been to somewhere like Afghanistan you might not realize how lucky you are to live in Canada, where you can walk down the street, go to the park, drive to the city, attend an event, without wondering if the person walking toward you has something strapped to his chest or a blade hidden. You live in one of the safest, most prosperous countries in the world. Many, many people around the world are willing to risk their lives to enjoy what we all enjoy as Canadian citizens.
I am so proud that my interpreter and his family, after a months-long struggle for freedom, will soon start a new life in Canada, full of new possibilities.
For everyone who has helped in any way along the way, thank-you. Tweet