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‘He Is My Brother’: Retired Soldiers Want Canada to Help Former Afghan Interpreter Who Risked It All

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Injured. Attack. Ambush. Suicide.

Those are just a few of the English words Mohammed Nabi Wardak learned when he arrived at Kandahar airbase in 2007 for a 20-day course, before taking up a front-line interpreter’s role with the Canadian Armed Forces.

It should have frightened him. And maybe it did. But in his mind, helping those countries making up the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) fighting the Taliban meant helping the Afghanistan he wanted to see come into being.

“They gave us hope,” he said. “They told [of] brightness, good future, education, technology, computers. That stuff. At that time, for the first time, I saw a computer.”

Wardak, who was 18, spent the next 16 months as an interpreter with Canadian troops who were mentoring Afghan soldiers and police as part of an operational mentoring and liaison team (OMLT) in Kandahar Province.

“We were so deep in enemy territory that we could get overrun at any time,” said a former combat engineer attached to the 3rd Battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment, also known as le vingt-deuxieme or the Van Doos.

CBC News agreed to refer to him by his nickname, Franck Charly, which he was known by when he spent his third and final tour in Afghanistan. Back then, he and Wardak were stationed at a remote police substation.

“Nabi used to sleep in the same room as me every night for almost six months. He was about, what, three metres from me? So, yeah, I knew him well. He dodged bullets the same way as we did.”

Wardak (front row, middle) worked as an interpreter in 2007 and 2008 with Canadian troops who were mentoring Afghan soldiers and police in Kandahar Province. (Submitted by Mohammed Nabi Wardak)

Today, Wardak finds himself homeless, jobless, and quite often, he says, hopeless. He’s been living rough in Athens since 2018, arriving as a refugee after fleeing Taliban death threats.

The Trudeau government is currently facing severe criticism for leaving behind many Afghan interpreters and others who supported Canadian military and diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan over the years in its chaotic exit this past summer, described by critics as disorganized at best and uncaring at worst.

Retired major Peter Sullivan, a deputy commanding officer of the OMLT in 2007, says Canada could have streamlined efforts to vet people and get them on planes out of the country as a priority, and dealt with other issues later.

“That’s, I understand, a very simple way of looking at it,” he said, acknowledging that it’s easy to judge from afar.

“But I think when the world is collapsing around you, you need simple, effective solutions. And so my belief is we, Canada, could have done a better job at that. I think some other countries did.”

WATCH | The National’s report on Wardak’s struggle to get Ottawa’s attention:

Afghan interpreter calls on Canada and Britain for help

1 month ago

While many Afghans have tried to flee their country when the Taliban took over, others began the quest for a new life many years earlier, such as Nabi Wardak, one who came to Canada and Britain’s aid and now needs them to come to his. 2:24

Wardak, of course, had already left Afghanistan. But his is a tale of an impenetrable bureaucracy nonetheless, and a system that he says has managed to mute his voice and render him invisible.

“It was not easy, my job. But these people which is sitting behind the desk and they haven’t been in Afghanistan one minute. They don’t know. They don’t think about that, what feeling I have.”

Death threats from the Taliban

When we met him in Athens in September, he showed us the carefully protected certificates of merit he was presented by Canadian and Afghan commanders, along with pictures of the men he had risked his life alongside, including Charly.

“Some of them, they call me brother,” he said with obvious pride. “As much as they were taking care of me at that time, I protect their lives from my experience because I grew up in the war. I [knew] Afghanistan’s situation.

“I was understanding who is the [Taliban], who is the farmer. Because how would [they] know that? A Canadian soldier when they arrived from Canada?”

Wardak has been living in Athens since 2018, arriving as a refugee after fleeing Taliban death threats. His wife and four children remain in hiding in Kabul. (Lily Martin/ CBC News)

Wardak eventually moved on to work as a battle group interpreter with British forces in the summer of 2008.

He says when he began receiving death threats from the Taliban, he approached both British and Canadian Embassy staff in Kabul for help.

The Canadians told him he would have to make any kind of immigration or asylum claim outside of Afghanistan, he said.

When the Taliban threats grew more insistent, Wardak decided to take his chances on the smuggler’s route from Iran to Turkey. He left his wife and four children behind with the hope of sending for them from either Canada or the U.K.

In 2015, he made it as far as the Turkish border before Iranian police caught him and deported him back to Afghanistan. He tried again the next year, making it to Turkey, where he spent 17 difficult months, working at one point as a shepherd.

When he contacted the Canadian Embassy in Ankara, he says he was told there were only two ways to get a visa for Canada: with the help of a sponsor or to be recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The UNHCR would not be prioritizing single men.

Wardak finally made it one step further, to Greece, in 2018, where he was promptly jailed. He says he was given three choices: stay in jail, apply for asylum or be deported back to Afghanistan. He made an asylum claim.

While his case was being processed, he contacted the Canadian Embassy in Athens and says he was told he would have to take his request to a larger embassy in Rome. And so he started writing emails.

‘His situation … gives me palpitations’

When CBC News managed to track down two of the Canadian servicemen shown in Wardak’s pictures, they were clearly distressed to hear of his plight.

One of them was Charly. The other was retired master warrant officer Guevens Guimont, who had looked for Wardak on a return tour to no avail.

“My God,” he said. “We had many fights against the Taliban. Many confrontations. Hearing about his situation right now actually gives me palpitations.

“He [risked] his life, yes. I risked my life many times for his country. For a change in his country. He was my brother. He is my brother.”

A certificate of appreciation given to Wardak for his interpreting work with the operational mentoring and liaison team. (Submitted by Mohammed Nabi Wardak)

Now that the three have been reconnected, Guimont and Charly are trying to help Wardak through a system he’s so far failed to penetrate on his own.

“Five years here in Greece, when I will have news from somebody?” Wardak asked us back in September. “My life is past.”

Since then, he’s been contacted by the British Embassy in Athens, with a potential visa in the offing, although he says he’s not counting on it.

“I’m the ball of the football. And on one side of the pitch there is British and Canadian. They’re kicking me to each other. The other side, there is Taliban.”

Simply staying in Greece, now that he has the right to do so having been recognized as a refugee, is not an option in his mind, as family reunification is notoriously difficult there. Not to mention finding work to support them and their journey.

Wardak’s youngest son was just one year old when he left.

“Me and my wife, we are feeling ourselves in the middle of sea with broken ship and absolutely dark night,” he said. “We are not understanding to which side we are moving.”

Navigating the application process

When CBC News contacted Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to ask if they were aware of Wardak’s case, the stock reply came back to say they couldn’t comment for privacy reasons.

Canada has committed to resettling some 40,000 “vulnerable Afghan nationals” through two streams. The first includes individuals and their families who assisted Canada, and the second focuses on vulnerable groups outside of Afghanistan.

Although more than 9,000 applications have so far been approved in the first stream, just over 3,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in Canada.

To be eligible for that group, Wardak would have had to be in Afghanistan on or after July 22, 2021.

Two Canadian soldiers Wardak worked alongside told CBC News he did more than expected by helping to carry heavy weapons and ammunition. (Submitted by Guevens Guimont)

It is not the first time he’s fallen through the cracks.

In 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government announced an immigration program open to Afghan interpreters who had supported Canada’s combat mission for at least 12 months between Oct. 9, 2007, and July 31, 2011.

Wardak’s service didn’t fit that window and he only learned of the program after it had closed.

“They did not go far enough back in that program and they should have kept it open for much longer than they did,” said Wendy Noury Long, founder of Afghan Canadian Interpreters, an advocacy group working to relocate interpreters to Canada since 2017.

“Having programs open for a very short period of time does not allow everybody to be able to apply. You’re dealing with Afghanistan in 2009, 2010, 2011. People did not have Facebook, people were just starting to get cellular phones.”

It’s a disconnect she points to today in the way IRCC handled the crisis over the summer as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. There was an emphasis on forms and process “in the middle of what was essentially a war zone,” she said.

“An inability to be flexible and to understand the realities cost many, many people their chance to come to Canada in a much safer manner,” she said.

For its part, IRCC insists it has mobilized its “entire global network to process visas and issue them on an urgent basis.”

“We have set up a dedicated process, web form for questions and telephone line, with extended hours, to solely serve Afghan clients who are seeking information and assistance.”

‘I hope to see Nabi in my country’

None of this, it would seem, will be of any help to Wardak. At least not yet.

His small ray of light in all this, if there is one, lies in the knowledge that he has not been forgotten by his former brothers in arms.

That seems to mean something to him.

“If they hear my voice, they will understand what an important job I did,” he said when we first met.

They do. And they want Canada to do right by him.

“We gave our words almost, you know?” said Charly. “They did their part of the job. We should do ours.”

“I hope to see Nabi in my country,” said Guimont. “My God, if I can receive Nabi anytime.”

If it ever does happen, Wardak needn’t worry about having someone to pick him up at the airport.

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At Least 3 Dead After Nigeria Highrise Building Collapses, Traps Dozens of Workers

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A 21-storey apartment building under construction collapsed in an upscale area of Nigeria’s largest city, killing at least three people and leaving dozens more missing, officials and witnesses said on Monday.

Lagos Police Commissioner Hakeem Odumosu confirmed the deaths, but noted that three survivors had been pulled from the rubble in Ikoyi by Monday evening. Officials arriving at the scene were confronted by crowds of people venting their anger that rescue efforts started several hours after the collapse.

Olayemi Bello told The Associated Press that five of his friends were trapped in the building and he feared the worst.

When they finish work, he said, “they will come outside and they will play with us and talk about the work. Now, nobody. All of them are dead.”

Construction worker Eric Tetteh said that he and his brother had managed to escape. But he estimated that more than 100 people were inside the building at the time it crumbled into a pile of debris.

Workers said the highrise apartment building had been under construction for about two years, and it was not immediately known what had caused the collapse.

However, such incidents are relatively common in Lagos because enforcement of building code regulations is weak. Other observers blame shoddy work by private developers eager to meet demand for housing in the megacity.

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Article: cbc.ca

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U.K.’s Johnson Warns of ‘doomsday’ As Global Climate Summit Begins

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‘If we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow,’ said U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the opening of COP26 in Glasgow. He compared climate change to a doomsday device, saying it’s one minute to midnight. (Credit: pool via Reuters/Jeff J Mitchell)

Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled Our Changing Planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson opened the global climate summit known as COP26 Monday, saying the world is strapped to a “doomsday device.”

Johnson likened an ever-warming Earth’s position to that of fictional secret agent James Bond — strapped to a bomb that will destroy the planet and trying to work out how to defuse it.

He told leaders that “we are in roughly the same position” — only now the “ticking doomsday device” is real and not fiction. The threat is climate change triggered by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, and he pointed out that it all started in Glasgow with James Watt’s steam engine powered by coal.

He was kicking off the world leaders’ summit portion of the Conference of Parties (COP), as it’s known, which meets every year and is the global decision-making body set up to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted in the early 1990s, and subsequent climate agreements.

The conference is aimed at getting agreement to curb carbon emissions fast enough to keep global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. The world has already warmed 1.1 C. Current projections based on planned emissions cuts over the next decade are for it to hit 2.7 C by the year 2100.

Have questions about COP26 or climate science, policy or politics? Email us: ask@cbc.ca. Your input helps inform our coverage.

Johnson told the summit — which was delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic — that humanity had run down the clock when it comes to climate change, and the time for action is now. He pointed out that the more than 130 world leaders who gathered had an average age of older than 60, while the generations most harmed by climate change aren’t yet born.

Johnson called for the end of coal-fired power plants and gasoline-powered cars along with a huge influx of cash from rich countries to poor to help them switch to greener economies and adapt to the worsening climate impacts.

‘We are digging our own graves’

Britain’s leader struck a gloomy note on the eve of the conference, after leaders from the Group of 20 major economies made only modest climate commitments at their summit in Rome this weekend.

And that mood got only darker when United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres followed him.

“We are digging our own graves,” Guterres said. “Our planet is changing before our eyes — from the ocean depths to mountaintops, from melting glaciers to relentless extreme weather events.”

Johnson and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, right, greet Honduras’s President Juan Orlando Hernandez at the conference on Monday. (Alastair Grant/Reuters)

For its part, Canada will impose a hard cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, as he called on other resource-rich countries to dramatically curb their own emissions.

“The science is clear — we must do more, faster,” he said during his two-minute speech at the summit.

U.S. President Joe Biden struck a similar tone, saying that “every day we delay, the cost of inaction increases.” He also apologized for his predecessor’s temporarily pulling the U.S. out of the historic 2015 Paris Agreement, something he said put the country behind in its efforts.

French President Emmanuel Macron, in addition to coaxing big carbon-polluting nations to promise more stringent emission cuts, said European nations now have to shift from promises to action.

The speeches from leaders will continue through Tuesday.

The idea is that they will do the big political give-and-take, setting out broad outlines of agreement, and then have other government officials hammer out the nagging but crucial details. That’s what worked to make the historic 2015 Paris climate deal a success, former UN climate secretary Christiana Figueres told The Associated Press.

“For heads of state, it is actually a much better use of their strategic thinking,” Figueres said.

In Paris, the two signature goals — the 1.5 C limit and net zero carbon emissions by 2050 — were created by this leaders-first process, Figueres said. In the unsuccessful 2009 Copenhagen meeting, the leaders swooped in at the end.

Who’s not there

Thousands lined up in a chilly wind in Glasgow on Monday to get through a bottleneck at the entrance to the venue. But what will be noticeable are a handful of major absences at the summit.

Xi Jinping, president of top carbon-polluting country China, won’t be in Glasgow. Figueres said his absence isn’t that big a deal because he isn’t leaving the country during the pandemic and his climate envoy is a veteran negotiator.

In a written statement delivered at the summit on Monday, Xi called on all parties to take stronger action to jointly tackle the climate challenge, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.

The Chinese president also urged developed countries to not only do more but also support developing nations to do
better on climate change, Xinhua said.

WATCH | World leaders lay out goals for climate summit:

World leaders lay out goals for COP26 climate summit

17 hours ago

The COP26 climate summit has started in Glasgow, with world leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, arriving for days of intense negotiations aimed at limiting global warming and the effects of climate change. 2:04

Biden, however, has chided China and Russia for their less-than-ambitious efforts to curb emissions and blamed them for a disappointing G20 statement on climate change.

Perhaps more troublesome for the UN summit is the absence of several small countries from the Pacific islands that couldn’t make it because of COVID-19 restrictions and logistics. That’s a big problem because their voices relay urgency, Figueres said.

In addition, the heads of several major emerging economies beyond China are also skipping the summit, including those from Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa. That leaves India’s Modi the only leader present from the so-called BRICS countries, which account for more than 40 per cent of global emissions.

Kevin Conrad, a negotiator from Papua New Guinea who also chairs the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, said he’s watching the big carbon-polluting countries. “I think it’s really important for the United States and China to show leadership as the two largest emitters. If both of them can show it can be done, I think they give hope to the rest of the world,” he said.

$100B in climate aid eyed

Increased warming over coming decades would melt much of the planet’s ice, raise global sea levels and greatly increase the likelihood and intensity of extreme weather, scientists say. With every tenth of a degree of warming, the dangers soar faster, they say.

The other goals for the meeting are for rich nations to give poor nations $100 billion US a year in climate aid and to reach an agreement to spend half of the money to adapt to worsening climate impacts.

But Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, speaking for vulnerable island nations, warned on Monday negotiators are falling short.

“This is immoral and it is unjust,” Mottley said. “Are we so blinded and hardened that we can no longer appreciate the cries of humanity?”

Before the UN climate summit, the G20 leaders, at the close of their meeting, offered vague climate pledges instead of commitments of firm action, saying they would seek carbon neutrality “by or around mid-century.” The countries also agreed to end public financing for coal-fired power generation abroad, but set no target for phasing out coal domestically — a clear nod to China and India.

The G20 countries represent more than three-quarters of the world’s climate-damaging emissions and G20 summit host Italy, and Britain, which is hosting the Glasgow conference, had been hoping for more ambitious targets coming out of Rome.

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Article: cbc.ca

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Increasing Conflict in Afghanistan Related to Ongoing Climate Change, Experts Say

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Samim Hoshmand is supposed to be in Scotland. He was going to tell the world how climate change is making war and conflict worse in his country of Afghanistan.

Instead, he is in exile as a refugee trying to get a visa in Tajikistan.

“Currently, I am waiting for a miracle to happen,” he told CBC Radio’s Day 6.

Hoshmand was one of Afghanistan’s top environmental officials. Then the Taliban swept back to power and he fled the country with nothing but the clothes on his back and a cell phone.

So instead of attending the COP26 climate conference, he will watch it from afar.

“I feel frustrated because my colleagues are coordinating the meetings and I’m really suffering, sitting here and I cannot do anything,” he said. “There is no one there to represent my country and my people, it’s very hard honestly.”

His country has been wracked by decades of war and occupation. The Taliban retook control of the impoverished nation as western troops pulled out this summer.

Samim Hoshmand was a climate negotiator for the Afghan government before the Taliban took hold of the country. (Submitted by Samim Hoshmand)

But Hoshmand says you cannot talk about the situation in Afghanistan without talking about the role climate change has played in making a bad situation worse.

Drought has ruined what little farmland was available. That’s made the whole country more susceptible to flash flooding and other natural disasters. Poor farmers are starving. Some have reportedly sold off daughters into arranged marriages.

“Climate change is not about natural disasters,” said Hoshmand. “It is a social disaster. It means conflict, it means violence and it means the situation in Afghanistan, how everything changed quickly.”

LISTEN | Samim Hoshmand speaks with Day 6 host Peter Armstrong:

10:40Increasing conflict in Afghanistan related to ongoing climate change: former climate negotiator

That intersection of climate and conflict is what Alec Crawford specializes in. He’s the lead of the environment conflict and peacebuilding program at The International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Climate change, he says, is what military experts call a threat multiplier.

“Climate change in and of itself may not be the sole driver of conflict,” he said.

But a changing climate can play up against existing conflict drivers like history, poverty and ethnicity.

“And when it combines with those things, it can tip a tense situation towards violence,” said Crawford.

WATCH | Officials temper expectations ahead of COP26:

Officials temper expectations ahead of COP26

2 days ago

Ahead of the COP26 climate change summit in Scotland, some officials, including U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. climate representative John Kerry, are tempering expectations about what will be achieved because of disagreements about what to do and how quickly. 2:10

And every year it’s getting worse. Too often, Crawford says people assume climate change means beaches and hotels being submerged by rising sea levels. But he warns, that misses the bigger picture.

Slow moving disasters like drought open up entire regions to a higher threat level when sudden onset disasters like hurricanes or flash floods hit. Then an already vulnerable population can be manipulated by armed groups.

“It may not be the hurricane or the drought,” he said. “But rather the violence that comes out of those events, that may be the (thing) that really threatens lives and livelihoods.”

For years, environmental activists have warned about this confluence of violence and climate change. Earlier this year Sir David Attenborough told a U.N. conference that the world risks worsening conflict. He described climate change as a “threat to our collective security and the security of our nations.”

In a letter to attendees of the climate conference in Glasgow, the director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Robert Mardini issued a stern warning.

“There is no doubt that people living in countries affected by conflict are among the most vulnerable to the climate crisis – globally,” wrote Mardini. “They are also the ones most neglected in terms of appropriate funding and support.”

That’s why Hoshmand is so disappointed he won’t be in Glasgow.

“At COP26 we wanted to raise our voice and raise the voice of other nations who are suffering like us,” he told CBC Radio.

The eyes of the world are on the conference. The impacts of climate change have never been more clear. Hoshmand hopes the world will heed the lessons learned in Afghanistan and Mali and Yemen where climate and conflict are already deeply intertwined and making a difficult life harder by the day.

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Source: cbc.ca

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