Family from Afghanistan could soon be in Canada after Sask. journalist helps former interpreter

·4 min read
Crowds of people tried to get flights out of Kabul in August. Moosomin World Spectator editor Kevin Weedmark has been working since the summer to help Qasem Sidiqi, an interpreter he had worked with, get out of the country. (Reuters - image credit)
Crowds of people tried to get flights out of Kabul in August. Moosomin World Spectator editor Kevin Weedmark has been working since the summer to help Qasem Sidiqi, an interpreter he had worked with, get out of the country. (Reuters - image credit)

A former interpreter from Aghanistan and his family could be in Canada within a week, ending a desperate, months-long flight from Kabul.

Qasem Sidiqi knew his life was in danger when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan earlier this year.

Back in 2004, Sidiqi had worked as an interpreter for Kevin Weedmark, who is now the editor of the World Spectator, a newspaper based in Moosomin, Sask.

At that time, Weedmark was in Afghanistan working for the Canadian International Development Agency, as well as reporting.

But when the Taliban took control this summer, it was Sidiqi's turn to seek help from Weedmark.

"When I was in Afghanistan I put my life in his hands on a couple of occasions," said Weedmark.

"So when he approached me in July and said, 'Look, I think my life is in danger now, the Taliban is closing in,' I thought I had to do everything I could to help him."

Afghanistan was a dangerous place when he was there, Weedmark says. A French journalist was killed and an aide worker was kidnapped.

"A few times I was out in public and talking to people and a crowd gathered, and a couple of times [Sidiqi] said, 'OK, it's time to go now.…We're getting back in the car and getting out of this situation.'"

Submitted by Kevin Weedmark
Submitted by Kevin Weedmark

So when Sidiqi contacted Weedmark, the Saskatchewan man reached out to anyone he knew in government or had worked in Afghanistan.

"It was late July and the Canadian government was trying to scramble to put some plans together," Weedmark said.

"We started with approaching the government, going through all of the documents we could find to show that he had worked with me when I was working with the Canadian International Development Agency."

Sidiqi was one of hundreds of former interpreters who were accepted to come to Canada.

"Initially it was planned to get some Canadian flights into Kabul and out again very quickly," Weedmark said.

But by that time the Taliban had taken control. Getting out of the country became dangerous and difficult.

Rescue attempt aborted

In one attempt, about 10 interpreters and their families met at a location. A Canadian contingent was supposed to come out of the airport and get them onto a bus, back to the airport and out of the country.

"But once those families gathered, other people saw something was going on and thought there might be a chance to get out," Weedmark said.

Gunfire erupted after more people gathered, and the rescue was aborted.

"When the gunfire started, it was two in the morning in Moosomin," said Weedmark.

"I was on the phone with a very senior official in Ottawa who was trying to give direction as we were trying to figure out how to get [the families] away from the gunfire."

There were other situations where the Canadian government tried to get people out, "but it was very dangerous just to get across town," said Weedmark.

"Unfortunately, in several cases, the plans just had to be abandoned when when violence flared up."

Sidiqi ended up taking a risky overland route into Pakistan.

In Islamabad, he met with the Canadian High Commission and got his visa to Canada.

But then he had to figure out a way to get his family into Pakistan as well.

After a couple of overland attempts failed, a flight was arranged about a week ago to get his family from Kabul to Islamabad.

Could be in Canada by Christmas

Sidiqi and his wife have a young family, including twins born in February.

With everyone now in Islamabad, Weedmark said he hopes they'll be in Canada by Christmas.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed. I know there is a flight of migrants from Islamabad to Toronto on Sunday, so hopefully he can be on that."

U.S. Marine Corps/Reuters
U.S. Marine Corps/Reuters

Weedmark said under the program for Afghans who have helped the Canadian government, Sidiqi and his family are fast tracked for permanent residency.

"It's been a real emotional roller-coaster," he said.

"Every time you get your hopes up and then it's dashed, it's a little bit discouraging. But it's wonderful to know that they're safely out of Afghanistan now.

"It's hard if you've never been to somewhere like that to understand just what the feeling is like in a place where you're in constant danger."

Weedmark said there are still thousands of people trying to get out of Afghanistan.

"I think it just reminds me again of how fortunate we are, who were born in Canada and born to a life of freedom and safety.

"There are people in this world who are willing to risk their lives to have what you and I have by virtue of being Canadian."

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