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Afghans Who Risked Their Lives for Canada Deserve Citizenship

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INTERPRETER

Every day there seem to be reminders that we, the country, must do well by the soldiers returning from Afghanistan.

It is one of the issues on which most Canadians agree, and certainly all political parties pay homage to the theme that veterans be treated well.

There is general awareness that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a valid "war wound," even though it manifests itself in uncertain ways.

The "unconventional" war in Afghanistan -- a war of roadside bombs, ambushes, and an ill-defined enemy that blends with the population -- increases the stress on soldiers more than a conventional war or hand-to-hand combat might.

That said, there is still criticism that we don't do enough for our soldiers, who are citizens, and who chose to serve their country by doing a dangerous job. What this means, is that they are not forgotten, not ignored, but many may slip through the cracks, as they say.

If the country is legitimately concerned about those who return from the war in Afghanistan, why is the country less concerned about Afghan individuals who served with Canadians as interpreters, all at risk to theirs and their family members' lives, and who want to come to Canada?

Indications are that two out of three Afghan interpreters who seek refuge in Canada -- the privilege to become citizens -- will be rejected.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has outlined "special measures" whereby Afghan applicants who have faced extreme risks working for Canadians for 12 consecutive months since late 2007, will likely be accepted into Canada.

This somewhat narrow condition has many inherent wrinkles that hinge on interpretation and red tape. Returning soldiers, many of whom had to rely on their interpreters, are uneasy at what seems something of a cop-out to deny our commitment to these Afghans who threw their lot in with us.

Think about it. In many ways Afghanistan is an unforgiving country of friends and potential enemies. The 100,000 troops of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) employed thousands of young Afghans as translators and fixers in the field.

Canadians of Afghan descent even volunteered to return to Afghanistan to translate for our guys as they fought to control and limit the threat of the Taliban.

That took courage too, but for local Afghans volunteering to work for Canadians (at $750 a month), it took more courage.

Some Afghan translators were killed by IEDs, but it's safe to assume that every single Afghan translator or interpreter is on a list somewhere, marked for reprisal. They know this, and knew it when they volunteered.

We, as a country, owe these young people, just as we owe our soldiers who served in our name in Afghanistan. What does it matter if the interpreter faced physical danger in the field, or less immediate danger working for Canadians in Kabul or Kandahar?

We don't distinguish between combat soldiers and those in the rear echelon. Why distinguish between interpreters, all of whom are in equal danger of reprisal by the Taliban now that the protection of Canadian soldiers is declining?

As our presence in Afghanistan goes down, danger to Afghan individuals who worked for (and with) us, increases.

For decency's sake, loosen the red tape and work harder at letting Afghans into Canada who risked their lives on our behalf, and who became comrades with the soldiers we now insist we will never forget.

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