Veterans complete their mission to help Afghan interpreters

(Ottawa) What began as a 30-day fundraiser to help Afghan interpreters flee the Taliban has turned into a painful, messy, and frustrating eight-month operation for the Veterans Transition Network (RTV). Its CEO believes it’s time to put an end to it.

Posted at 9:23pm

Sarah Richie
The Canadian Press

The organization began raising funds last summer when the Taliban toppled the government in Afghanistan, but as Executive Director Oliver Thorne points out, no one expected the commitment to last so long.

“Things have evolved from an emergency evacuation crisis to a long-term migration operation,” Thorne said.

The network will end its fundraising campaign on May 2 and then further scale back operations over the next six months to shift its focus to its mental health support programs for veterans.

Veteran-led non-governmental organizations have mobilized to rescue Afghans who served in the Canadian Armed Forces during the war. They coordinated exfiltration operations so they could flee to neighboring countries before they could get to Canada.

According to Mr Thorne, the bureaucratic maze makes it difficult to help these people submit the right documents and creates a bottleneck in the federal system. He calls on the government to resume its consular services in Afghanistan.

The ability to provide consular support in Afghanistan would defuse many of these tensions. This is where the bottleneck really lies.

Oliver Thorne, executive director of the Veterans Transition Network

Retired Maj. Gen. Denis Thompson is part of this network of veterans, refugee advocates and volunteers who help people navigate a complex system of visas and other documents. He sits on the board of directors of RTV and serves as an advisor to the board of directors of Aman Lara, a Canadian NGO that operates a safe haven network in Afghanistan.

He says about 700 people in Pakistan are currently unable to fly to Canada because they do not have exit visas for that country. Another group of about 500 people are said to be ready to leave Afghanistan but have nowhere to go.

“You have the right documents,” Mr. Thompson points out. But the pipe is clogged. »

Now, about 450 of those stuck in Pakistan have expired visas and may be forced to return to Afghanistan to renew them, putting them at greater risk of Taliban reprisals.

Political upheaval in Pakistan following the recent election could make it even harder for Canada to negotiate changes to the mandatory exit visa system, Denis Thompson fears. In his view, these changes should have already been made.

“These are people who were already employed by Canada who have already put themselves at risk,” he continued. I just find it a bit strange that we don’t make more effort to help those who helped us. »

For his part, Oliver Thorne says he is upset that Afghans are not entitled to the “special route” offered to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.

Both men believe the Canadian government needs to do better to facilitate the work of NGOs and humanitarian groups on the ground. Nonetheless, they recognize the efforts of the “hard workers” in Global Affairs Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“Much of our work could have been delegated to officials who want results but don’t seem to have the legal resources to do so,” Thompson said. That’s what annoys me and it’s a ministerial responsibility. »

Sanctions prohibit Canadians from spending money in Afghanistan that falls into the hands of the Taliban, either directly or indirectly. That means funding applications from Ottawa have been put on hold and on-site operations are limited.

In an open letter sent April 4 to ministers for justice, public security, foreign affairs and international development, nine humanitarian organizations, including the Red Cross, asked the government to change its position, mentioning that other states would have exempted humanitarian groups from their sanctions.

“Examples of ‘indirect’ contributions may include paying taxes on employee salaries, which is mandatory for any organization wishing to continue working in Afghanistan,” the letter reads.

Denis Thompson adds: “To be honest, a lot of the solutions to these problems come from NGOs, while the problems come from government. »

The Canadian government has promised to allow 40,000 Afghan refugees to settle in the country. So far, more than 10,600 people have arrived in Canada.

RTV is proud to have raised 4.6 million donations and helped 2,061 people flee Afghanistan.

Oliver Thorne says he’s looking for another organization capable of taking over, before reiterating that he’s “really proud of the incredible work my team is doing”.

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