Arabnews 24 - Canada : Some things are worth waiting for. Other things are worth fighting for.For what James Akam is going to experience Friday, he has had to do plenty of both.He has experienced victory. Suffered loss. Has constant worry but also has incredible hope.From the battlefields of Afghanistan to the refugee camps of Europe,
Akam — born Najibullah Habib — has experienced it all.But while he has served with the Canadian troops as an interpreter, the one thing he has not experienced is life in Canada.
That is about to change.“I am so excited,” he said from Germany, where he has been in a refugee camp for most of the last six months.He’s not the only one.
After a long battle to see it happen, the 29-year-old will finally set foot on the soil of his dream home this week. His flight from Frankfurt, Germany, on Aer Lingus lands at Pearson airport at 4:25 p.m. Friday.It’s hard to know what happens after that, but it’s a start.
Having lost his parents to execution by the Taliban, his next goal is to locate his wife and son in Kabul. They’re in hiding. His visa that allows him to come to Canada also includes them. So, hopefully, there will be a second emotional trip to the airport soon.“My wife and son are everything to me,” he tells me. “It’s why I left for Germany. My dream was to go there and get to Canada and bring them over later.”
He will soon be halfway there. And there are several key people who helped make it happen.
The first, without question, is a 39-year-old former infantryman named Eric Kirkwood, who served two tours of duty as a corporal with the Royal Canadian Regiment in Kandahar. It was there he worked with Akam, who was an outside-the-wire, in uniform, interpreter for the Canadian troops from 2008 to 2011.“This guy was a hero to me,” Kirkwood said recently. “I put my life in James’ hands and trusted him. He deserves to be here in Canada because he is every bit the veteran that any of us were there in Afghanistan.”
It was difficult, though, to make that case in the beginning to Canada’s immigration officials.
James could not seem to get through the process and was rejected. But Kirkwood went to bat for him. He put a call into the Toronto Sun last year and talked with an editor named Dave Pizer, who passed it along to city editor Jonathan Kingstone.
Once James arrives here, the focus will shift to the remaining interpreters in Afghanistan who we also don’t want to leave on the battlefield. Canada was able to bring in 1,100 people in a special program for interpreters and their families, but the door had closed. Former veteran affairs ministers Julian Fantino and Erin O’Toole were helpful. The people who represent German and international interpreters — Andre Lindemann, president of the Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Ubersetzer e.V. (BDU), as well as colleagues Maya Hess and Ralf Lemster — were vital to getting James to a meeting in Berlin and putting him up for weeks while he was being processed.“I owe them so much,” James said.
The most important player in this story is Immigration Minister John McCallum. While the Markham-Unionville MP was busy with the goal of bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees, he also made this a priority.“I want to shake his hand one day,” Akam said. Perhaps it will happen sooner than you think. Whatever happens next for James Akam, he’s the first to acknowledge it will have been worth the wait.