TORONTO – When freedom from threats on the life of you and your family are on the horizon, a little red tape and expense is no big deal.
So says former Afghan interpreter to the Canadian troops James Akam from a refugee camp in Germany, after hearing news the Canadian government is in fact looking into his case as Immigration Minster John McCallum had promised.
Back in December, the Liberal minister said Citizenship and Immigration Canada was “investigating.”
On New Year’s Eve, a case worker contacted me asking for the e-mail of the 29-year-old, who served with the Royal Canadian Regiment in the battlefield near Kandahar from 2008 until 2011.
By Tuesday, the Canadian embassy in Austria had made contact with James.
“It was such good news,” he said. “I am so happy.”
A “temporary resident permit application” was then e-mailed to his cellphone for James, his wife and his son. His family remains in hiding in Afghanistan from the Taliban and ISIS.
For a guy who has dodged bullets and bombs, whose parents were murdered because he was helping NATO, James is used to speed bumps.
This one is technical in nature.
“I can’t open these forms on my phone,” he said. “I have tried everything.”
I teased him it’s a First World problem he would have to get used to. He tried the crisis office inside the refugee camp, but they were not able to access the forms either.
No problem. He was arranging to head into a village with an Internet cafe about 10 km from the camp, located 140 km east of Frankfurt.
The Canadian soldier who brought this to my attention said this is one 10-km walk he won’t complain about.
“When getting the chance to come to Canada is your dream, this is a short walk,” Eric Kirkwood said, with a chuckle. “He’s used to long walks. We often on patrols would walk 22 km in Afghanistan.”
The next hurdle is he must pay 140 euros as part of the application.
“I have 200 euros (remaining),” James said, adding he will gladly pay the fee.
As for a passport, as a refugee who got to Germany by boat and walking, he does not have one.
“The Canadian office said no problem, but to get some passport-sized pictures,” he said.
Now this does not mean James Akam, whose birth name is Najibullah Habibi, is already on his way to Canada, but it’s a start.
He originally qualified in 2012 but was later denied because he could not produce paperwork for his whereabouts prior to working with the Canadians.
“It was not the kind of country where you have regular bureaucracy and written receipts,” explained Kirkwood. “I vouch for him. If he was a threat to Canada, he had three years to take advantage of it when he was with us 24-7. In fact, all he did was help keep us safe.”
Hats off to McCallum and former Conservative Veterans Affairs minister Erin O’Toole for making this a human issue and not political. No matter what happens, hopefully the Liberals will also extend the special program for the two dozen former interpreters still on the run in Afghanistan.