Samandar’s Story

An Interpreter’s Journey from Kandahar to Canada

Tim Laider, VTN Board President, participated in a tour of duty in the Kandahar area of Afghanistan as a convoy escort troop, crew commander, acting station second-in-command, an RWS gunner, and a RG-31 driver. 

Samander Khan was training the Afghan National Army soldiers on how to use NATO-issue weapons when he met Canadian soldier Tim Laidler. Photo: Globe and Mail

Samandar Khan and Tim Laidler: Friendship Forged in Battle

VTN’s Tim Laidler met Samandar Khan in Kandahar in 2008. Tim, a young corporal on his first tour, stayed safe thanks to many who served alongside, including Samandar, his interpreter at Kandahar airfield. They formed a friendship and Tim heard of the dangers facing interpreters and their families. He wanted to help Samandar and other interpreters emigrate to Canada to avoid Taliban retaliation for helping Canada’s mission.

So Tim fought for his interpreters to have an immigration avenue like the one offered by the U.S. Army. Tim used his voice.

“The Afghans only want peace and peace of mind.” – Samandar

In 2008 while still serving, Tim spoke with reporter Alexandre Panetta who was with the Canadian Press in Kandahar. The media interview went national in Canada and highlighted the dangers facing interpreters. He did so again in 2009, and soon after a special immigration program was created for Afghan interpreters to move to Canada with their immediate family. Over 700 families came to Canada before the program closed. Samandar and his wife were one of those families; they were grateful, but often worried about his parents and siblings left behind.

As the Taliban became resurgent in Afghanistan in 2021, Samandar and other interpreters held protests to rescue fellow former interpreters suddenly at great risk in a volatile Afghanistan, swirling from the American withdrawal. They urged the Canadian government to reopen immigration programs for Afghan interpreters and family members. Samandar reached out to Tim to come to their rally, knowing that veterans would bolster the visibility of their rally. Tim showed up with several other veterans.

It was at that protest in Vancouver that Tim heard about the 18 family members that Samandar needed to bring to Canada. Samandar knew they were at grave risk and would be targeted because of his former work as a Kandahar interpreter. He desperately needed to bring them to safety in Canada quickly and asked Tim to help.

Tim speaks at 2021 protest held in Vancouver, B.C., urging the Canadian government to reopen immigration programs for Afghan interpreters and family members.

Joining Forces Under a New Mission in Canada: Rescuing Interpreters and families still at risk

Thanks to generous donors for this Afghan campaign, Tim was able to find spaces at the donor-funded safe houses in Kabul, arrange donor-funded ground evacuations into Pakistan, write a letter of recommendation to the Canadian government, and repeatedly contact Canadian immigration until this family was “in the air.”

The mission to bring Samandar’s family to safety and reunite in Vancouver was a harrowing journey spanning over several months with “hundreds of obstacles.” While at the safe house in August, Samandar’s brothers tried to enter the Kabul airfield via the infamous Baron gate multiple times. The crowds were too large and finally an explosion that killed 183 people at the airfield ended any attempts to enter. Samandar’s family joined the hundreds of others who made their way out by land and after weeks of waiting in a third country made it safely to Canada.

In September, nine adult relatives and nine children arrived in Canada and Samandar’s family is now reunited near Vancouver, safe and very grateful for all who helped their life-saving rescue.

Some of Samandar’s family that has settled in Canada, January 2022.

“If it wasn’t for VTN’s support, they wouldn’t be here today.” – Samandar

This story started with a friendship between a Canadian soldier and an Afghan interpreter, both advocating to bring Afghan interpreters to Canada, both using their voices to help those at risk. They could not have pulled this off – the recent evacuation of Samandar’s desperate family – if it wasn’t for the profound, compassionate help by donors to this campaign.

Thank you all for making this happen. We remain forever in your debt. 

-Tim Laidler and Samandar Khan