|Subject: Afghan interpreter denied Canadian visa
||Nov 14, 2011 , The Toronto Star
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN—A battlefield interpreter, hailed as a courageous leader by the Canadian soldiers he served with, has been rejected by immigration officials who questioned his decision to go public with his complaints about a bogged-down system.
Sayed Shah Sharifi was lost in Canada’s immigration labyrinth when I found him here last July, desperately seeking a visa under a special program for Afghans whose lives were in danger because they worked with Canadian soldiers and officials.
Days after the story of his frustrations and fears appeared on the front page of the Toronto Star this summer, Sharifi received preliminary approval to move to Canada. And then, in recent weeks, he was just as suddenly rejected with a form letter.
During his almost four-hour interview on July 21 with Canadian officials, who, Sharifi says, identified themselves as “immigration intelligence officers,” they mentioned reading the stories on thestar.com.
They wanted to know if he wasn’t worried that having his name and picture on the web had increased his risk of being attacked by insurgents, who had warned months earlier that they considered him a collaborator with enemy, infidel forces.
Sharifi, 23, believes the Canadian officials were unhappy that he had complained about the immigration department’s foot dragging.
It’s a disturbing thought in a place where 158 Canadians have given their lives, and hundreds more have been wounded, in defence of democracy. I found it hard to believe.
How could a young man whose extraordinary bravery under fire, in service to Canadian troops, who was repeatedly praised for his brave leadership and integrity in letters of recommendation from several senior military officers and officials, be turned away from Canada’s doors because he had the audacity to speak to a newspaper columnist?
Then Jack Branswell, media relations manager for Citizenship and Immigration Canada in Ottawa, confirmed my worst fears.
The officials who interviewed Sharifi didn’t believe his claim that the Taliban want to kill him even though assassins on motorcycles murder several suspected collaborators in an average week in Kandahar city.
“Mr. Sharifi dismissed the risks that may have occurred following his decision to have his situation reported in the media,” Branswell wrote to me Thursday, in reply to written questions submitted Monday.
“He indicated that it was not necessary to discuss individualized risk in his application (that is, the risks that he personally faced, even though demonstrating individualized and extraordinary risk is a requirement to be accepted under the special measures).
“During the interview, he could not maintain a consistent narrative of the threat he faces/faced. His account of extraordinary and individual risks was therefore deemed to not be credible.”
I’ve been reporting from Kandahar since 1996, when it was Mullah Mohammed Omar’s seat of power as the Taliban swept across Afghanistan. And I have no doubt that his men are hunting for people like Sharifi, and will do so for years to come.
Even if the officials had reason to question whether he faces “extraordinary risk,” the glowing recommendation letters in Sharifi’s file suggest he has more than earned the benefit of the doubt.
For one thing, the Taliban knew Sharifi’s face long before his picture appeared in the Toronto Star.
Sharifi was personal interpreter to Captain Alexander Duncan during an especially bloody stretch of the war for control of Kandahar province, from February to September 2008. The captain wrote a powerful letter supporting Sharifi’s visa application last summer.
It confirmed the risks Sharifi and his family faces, explaining why the threat of repercussions from the Taliban was grave.
Calling Sharifi “without a doubt the most skilled interpreter I have ever encountered,” Duncan praised the Afghan’s “deep respect for everything Canada stands for.
“Sayed is a highly intelligent, educated, multilingual man who would contribute greatly to Canada as a citizen,” the army captain continued. “His personality traits, ethics, values and moral compass completely reflect the best of Canadian society.”
Sharifi didn’t come to me four months ago looking for publicity. I found him. I wanted to know whether the Harper government was keeping its promise to give the military’s Afghan interpreters safe haven.
An Afghan colleague, Bismillah Khushal, recommended I talk to Sharifi. Sharifi told me he wasn’t afraid to have his name and picture in print and on the Internet because the insurgents were already after him.
He had tried working within Canada’s immigration system, and it was ignoring him, along with countless other Afghans who had risked their lives to work with Canadians, only to crash into a wall of bureaucratic indifference as the clock ticked down to zero hour.
As the Taliban made death threats in phone calls and in night letters left outside his Kandahar home, Sharifi applied, and reapplied, for a year to get a Canadian visa. Several times, he was asked to provide more information and he patiently complied.
His story moved Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to admit that the special visa program was bogged down. He promised to fix it.
In less than a week, Sharifi received preliminary approval for a visa and was told to begin medical and security checks, and prepare for the final interview.
On Oct. 31, he was called into the Kandahar office of the International Organization for Migration, the middleman for Canada’s immigration department in Afghanistan.
An IOM official handed Sharifi a form letter from the joint committee that reviews applications under the special visa program, dated Oct. 7.
“Based on the information and documentation provided, the Committee has found that you do not meet the criteria,” the letter said, without giving reasons.
The letter continued: “Thank you for your interest in Canada, and for your service to Canada’s mission to help Afghanistan become a more stable and self-sufficient state.”
Sharifi says the IOM official told him that he was the only person among dozens of applicants who reached the final stage only to be turned down.
Duncan’s high praise is echoed in several letters of recommendation from Canadians that Sharifi worked alongside on the battlefields of Kandahar province.
“What I find really disappointing about all of this is that, with his overall conduct, if he was a Canadian soldier, he would have probably got a medal for it,” former army medic Philip Hunter told me. “But his (visa) application process is really being impeded.”
A little more than 600 Afghans have applied for visas under the special program and “a little over one-third of all applications have been successful to date,” Branswell told me.
Slightly more than 180 successful applicants and their family members have resettled in Canada, he added.
Files are still being processed, and the department expects the special program will issue visas to more than the 450 Afghans originally estimated when Kenney announced it in the fall of 2009, Branswell said.
Many face a long wait as foreign troops continue to pull out of Afghanistan, and the insurgents step up their attacks.
“We are working towards having all successful applicants and their families resettled to Canada by next spring,” Branswell said.
In the face of letters from honourable Canadians with long, often painful, experience in Afghanistan, and who expressed overwhelming support for Sharifi, immigration officials chose to judge him by their own hunches.
“For example, in his first application (August 2010) Mr. Sharifi did not report threats he subsequently claimed resulting from his employment during the 2008-2009 period,” Branswell wrote. “The risk account from this employment also changed substantially over time.
“After his first refusal, Mr. Sharifi submitted a new application (January 2011), with a narrative that was inconsistent with the first application and was also confusing. In July 2011, Mr. Sharifi was granted a personal interview at the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team base, which is not normally done for refused cases under this program.”
The Canadian officials who dismissed the dangers Sharifi faces did so from the safe, comfortable confines of a heavily guarded military compound.
I invite them to come and experience the reality of Kandahar as I do, from the back seat of an old car, without any guards or guns, wondering who in the crowds might see my foreign face, and take the easy opportunity to kill.
Then they might be qualified to judge whether Sharifi’s life is really on the line because he had the courage and conviction to do the right thing by Canada.
Just read on star web
| (in reply to: Afghan interpreter denied Canadian visa)
This is a travesty especially when approximately 40% of all refugee claimants from all countries are approved if they get to Canada by the IRB.