An Afghan military interpreter made it to Canada - but his siblings were forced back to Afghanistan
For a year, Asad Ali Afghan waited for the federal government to push through the paperwork giving him a new lease on life in Canada, the country he served as an Afghan military interpreter.
After he and five members of his family fled Afghanistan for Pakistan in November 2021, they waited nine months in a cramped hotel room in Islamabad while Ottawa approved travel. They all made it to Winnipeg last August and settled in Delta, B.C. a month later.
But while he's now safe from the Taliban, three of his loved ones still have targets on their backs.
"I talk to them every day, every night, because I am very worried about them," Afghan said.
Two of his brothers and one of his sisters fled to Pakistan themselves. They were hoping to come to Canada under a special immigration program designed for former employees of the Canadian government or military in Afghanistan and their families.
When Afghan applied on his siblings' behalf, the only response he received from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) was that the process was underway.
But Canadian authorities never assigned case files to his brothers and sister, he said. When authorities in Pakistan caught them in the city of Quetta, they had no way to prove they were on their way to Canada.
Less than a month after they arrived in Pakistan, they were back in Afghanistan, hiding out in the border village of Spin Boldak.
Siblings fear arrest, torture — or worse
CBC News reached one of Afghan's brothers in Spin Boldak. CBC has agreed not to identify him, due to the dangers he faces.
"The Taliban have arrested, tortured and flogged many Afghans," he said. "They are known to murder those who have helped foreign militaries."
He said he and his siblings seldom leave the house.
They spent 25 days in Pakistan, he said, before police told them they had three days to get out of the country.
"The hotel guys every night were asking, 'Based on which documents are you here?'" he said. "So it was a hard time for us. We didn't have documents, legal documents."
Last October, the government of Pakistan began running ads telling undocumented migrants they would be deported or imprisoned if they did not obtain legal paperwork by the end of 2022 permitting them to be in the country.
IRCC told CBC News it had received assurances from Pakistan that undocumented Afghan migrants en route to Canada would not receive such treatment.
No one from the Pakistan High Commission in Ottawa offered comment for this story. In the past, the diplomatic mission has told CBC News that Afghans who are able to produce evidence they are en route to Canada would not be deported.
"We are very concerned about the human rights violations experienced by Afghans waiting around," said Zosa De Sas Kropiwnicki-Gruber, a director of policy, advocacy and research at Amnesty International Canada.
Her organization's global head office wrote to Islamabad in December, warning it against deporting undocumented Afghans.
"It's just taking too long and there are too many hurdles and there is a lack of regularization for Afghans waiting in this situation and there are rights violations happening every day," De Sas Kropiwnicki-Gruber said.
Special immigration spaces almost gone: IRCC
IRCC declined to provide anyone for an interview for this story.
In a statement, the department said it was aware of "media stories regarding detention and deportation of Afghans from Pakistan. There are no reports of IRCC clients being impacted at this time."
Asked about a lack of case files for Afghan's siblings, IRCC said it could not comment on individual cases for privacy reasons.
The department also said it has received applications for most of the 18,000 spots in the Special Immigration Measures program, and referrals for the remaining available spots.
"IRCC continues to send out invitations to apply to these additional referrals," it said.
Both the NDP and Conservative immigration critics told CBC News they have heard of other Afghans hoping to come to Canada who have been sent back to Afghanistan.
"What we're hearing on the ground from people is that people are getting deported, they are not getting to safety," the NDP's Jenny Kwan said.
Her party is calling on the Canadian government to lift the 40,000 cap on the number of Afghans it wants to bring here, calling it an arbitrary limit.
Her Conservative counterpart, Tom Kmiec, said he doubts Ottawa can bring more migrants here, given its struggles since Kabul's fall to the Taliban to meet its immigration targets.
The IRCC says 28,285 Afghans have arrived in Canada since August 2021.
Kmiec said Pakistan may be looking for a signal that allies like Canada are able to move refugees faster.
"It's part of the government's role to use its soft power [and] process the applications quickly," Kmiec said.