OTTAWA - Dozens of interpreters who served as Canada's voice during the war in Kandahar, but then met silence when they tried to immigrate here, are now being allowed in.
Over 500 people applied under a special program set up in 2009 by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to recognize "Afghans who face extraordinary personal risk as a result of their work in support of Canada's mission in Kandahar."
But two thirds of those who applied were turned away by the time the program closed last September, because the government said they didn't meet the qualifications.
Now, the government is easing the rules, saying they were too restrictive.
Thousands of young men found work during the war with Western forces, despite the fact that doing so was akin to having a bulls-eye painted on their backs.
'Terps, as they are known by soldiers, were routinely threatened, harassed and intimidated by the Taliban.
But in order to be allowed into Canada, they had to prove their lives were at risk and many were told their claims weren't believable.
Now, those having their files reviewed are being told all they need is a letter of recommendation from a Canadian soldier or government official.
The other requirement of the program was that the applicants had to have been employed for 12 months between the fall of 2007 and 2011.
That rule shut out some who worked during the bloodiest days of battle, but the requirement remains in place.
Officials with Citizenship and Immigration Canada wouldn't give a specific number of rejections being reversed, saying it is dozens, but fewer than 100.
"Our additional review has been facilitated to ensure that all of those who may qualify for the program are given every reasonable consideration," a spokeswoman for Kenney said in an email.
Among those hoping to be in Canada by summer is Muhibollah Karegar, who had his application rejected twice, in part because officials didn't believe his life was in danger.
In February, he appealed directly to the prime minister and Kenney in a letter.
"What I find really disappointing about all of this is that, with my overall conduct, if I was a Canadian soldier, I would have probably got a medal for it," he wrote.
"I dread the thought of losing my life before I can get to safety in Canada."
In an email, Karegar said seven other of his colleagues who worked with military were called to Kabul in late March for interviews.
As part of the review, the government has also waived $61,000 in fees that the Afghans would have ordinarily been required to pay as part of the permanent residency process.
The government expects over 500 Afghans — interpreters and their families — to be settled in Canada by the time the review is completed.
It took more than a year after the program was launched for the first three dozen to arrive.