Birth date confusion leaves former Afghan interpreter in limbo

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Birth date confusion leaves former Afghan interpreter in limbo

​Ahmadshah Malgarai is a mature student at Carleton University, but just how mature is anyone's guess.

"I feel like I am in [my] 40's," Malgarai smiles.

He can't be any more precise because he was born in Afghanistan, where birth dates don't have the same cultural importance as in Canada and most other countries, and are often forgotten.

"Even if you ask the older generation in Afghanistan, 'OK, what year are we in now?' they won't know," he said.

There's one date Malgarai is sure of: the year he came to Canada, 1993.

He arrived alone as a refugee in his late teens or early 20's, sent here by his parents to find a better life. He had no friends or family in Canada.

Translator picked birth date

The translator who filled out his immigration form had sized him up and picked Jan. 1, 1972 as his date of birth.

Immigration officials in Canada accepted that as fact, and when he gained citizenship that was the date printed on his new Canadian passport.

In 2007 Malgarai signed up to go back to Afghanistan under a civilian contract with the Canadian military. He worked as a language and cultural adviser to senior military officials, often at great personal risk.

"I went to Afghanistan to defend the value of preaching peace and security and what Canada stands for," he said.

Malgarai said he survived many close calls during his year-and-a-half tour of duty with Canadian Forces, and later with the American military.

He knew that returning to his country of birth meant he had a big target on his back.

"If insurgents would have caught Canadian soldiers and an Afghan who is helping, they probably would let the foreigner go ... but at no price would [they] let those who are helping or working or assisting go without chopping their heads," he said.

Returned to Afghanistan

In 2016 Malgarai returned to Afghanistan to bring home his wife, who he had met and married during his tour, as well as their son.

Afghan border police pulled him in for questioning, noting their records listed him as being born in 1976, four years later than the birth date on his Canadian passport.

He was given an Afghan national identification document which also says he was born in 1976.

Malgarai was allowed to leave with his family, but he was told to make sure to correct the discrepancy once he was back in Canada.

One year ago he filled out the form for a citizenship certificate, as recommended by Canadian officials.Then in March he was told to fill out a different form to amend his original immigration record.

"They are telling me, no this is the wrong application. First you have to go and amend your date of birth in Immigration and Refugee, and then after that we will change your date of birth."

Told process could take years

Malgarai says he's been told that process could take a couple of more years, which is problematic because he needs to return to Afghanistan soon to settle his parents' estate.

"From what I see, the bureaucracy is so huge within the government that the government official will only act or get to work if someone is hurt or killed, or you talk to the media," he said.

Despite repeated requests, officials with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did not respond to CBC's questions about Malgarai's case.

Malgarai has also contacted his MP, Catherine McKenna. Her office is now trying to expedite the process to have the date on his passport changed so he can return to Afghanistan.