Montreal Afghans want Canada to do more to evacuate refugees
MONTREAL -- For many Montreal Afghans, the news that Canada is wrapping up its military mission at Kabul airport is devastating.
Canada’s defence minister Harjit Sajjan said Wednesday that because the U.S. is in charge of security at the airport and is winding down its mission to evacuate people out of the country, the Canadian military will soon have to prepare its own departure.
"There’s no commercial flights, no one is even able to access the airport, borders are closed, so people don’t have any way out," said Safia Amiry, a PhD candidate at McGill University.
"Their only hope are these chartered flights."
Amiry was born in Kabul under Taliban rule and is now working on her PhD researching gender equity in Afghanistan.
She said like many Afghan international students, her visa and passport will eventually expire, with no avenue to renew it.
"I don’t know where I belong myself right now. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan does not exist, the embassies will not give you a passport from that address, and I do not belong to Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan or whatever they call it," she said.
Quebec announced this week that it will soon welcome its first 300 refugees and the Montreal-based Afghan Women’s Centre says it has already written to the Canadian government asking for more.
"We want to request support for 500 extra people [who are] left in Afghanistan," said Victoria Jahesh, executive director at the Afghan Women's Centre.
Canada has increased its evacuation efforts in recent days. On Tuesday, a record 535 people were on board a flight as the military frantically tries to evacuate all foreign nationals as well as vulnerable Afghans who helped Canada and its allies prior to the recent Taliban takeover.
Taliban leaders have said the Aug. 31 deadline to get out is non-negotiable, and U.S. and Canadian officials worry an attack on the airport could be imminent.
There has been recent pressure on U.S. forces to come to an agreement with the Taliban to extend the deadline. The dire situation is also a cause for frustration for those who served in Afghanistan, including Ret. Maj-Gen. David Fraser, a former commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan.
"I'm crushed," Fraser told CTV News.
"Crushed that we tried to get these people out and we'll continue to work hard, but if the United States and the Taliban can't come to an agreement about extending this, just given the fact that it's just so hard to get through to the crowds at the airport, we should expect that not everybody's going to get out.
It's just heart-wrenching."
Jahesh said the Afghan Women's Centre has the capacity to help many more people who are desperate to get out.
"We already have a lot of services and activities in place that we can serve them in terms of interpretation, accompaniment, finding housing," she said.
Amiry hopes her family, who is currently hiding in Kabul, is among them.
"The Taliban has started a door-to-door manhunt to go after the people who work with foreign nationals, with the Afghan government, who are working for women's rights and human rights," she said.
Added to her fears is that her research into gender equity at McGill could put her family at further risk, which means she hopes the Canadian military can get them out safely as soon as possible.
With files from The Canadian Press