About 100 former Afghan interpreters who assisted the Canadian government during the war in Afghanistan rallied in downtown Toronto Wednesday demanding the government take more action to safely bring their families to Canada.

“Our families are in danger, we need to save them now before it gets late,” said Raffi, a former interpreter who did not want to give his last name out of concern for his parents and siblings who are hiding in Afghanistan from the Taliban .

The Canadian government has committed to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees after the Taliban took over control of the country last summer.

Ottawa has established a special immigration program for Afghan nationals and their families, who assisted the Government of Canada, including locally engaged staff, but many former interpreters say they have been waiting months for answers after filing the initial paperwork.

Former interpreters voiced frustration at the rally about how long the process is taking and are calling for the government to help find a safe passage out of Afghanistan to another country and expedite the resettlement process.

“We put our lives in Jeopardy, we put our families lives in Jeopardy and worked shoulder-to-shoulder and now this the response we get, is that fair?” said a former interpreter who went by “Naz.”

Raffi says his family has been assigned an application number but hasn’t heard anymore from immigration officials.

“They gave us numbers, but the cases stop there, we don’t see any further progress.”

Under the “special program,” the government has received 14,865 applications, 10,165 have been approved and 4,890 Afghans have arrived in Canada.

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Through various streams, a total of 8,680 Afghans have arrived in Canada since August 2021.

Government officials note the mission to resettle 40,000 Afghans refugees is a multi-year commitment.

“The timelines for arrival are based on the individual’s or families’ current location and whether we can process their applications accordingly,” said Aidan Strickland a spokesperson for the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. “We also have to factor in whether they have the right documents to travel and the ability to do so.”

For at-risk Afghans, the government says there are several factors out of its control and multiple obstacles to overcome, such as the safe functioning of the Kabul airport.

The government says the bottleneck is not the processing capacity of the Government of Canada, but it’s situational and environmental factors on the ground in Afghanistan.

“We are navigating a war zone in which the Government of Canada has no military or diplomatic presence,” said Strickland. “What we’re doing to try to secure safe passage for those in Afghanistan is working with partners in the region, whether it’s state entities, international organizations, private sector entities, or non-profit organizations to identify a path forward where we cannot just get travel documents to people but secure their safe passage.”

Immigration officials say the government remains in close contact with approved applicants who are still in Afghanistan and neighboring countries.

The former interpreters meet regularly with Immigration officials for updates on their families applications. Depending on whether progress is made in the near future, they are planning the possibility of a much larger rally in Ottawa.

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