Canada will be expanding its humanitarian efforts to help resettle thousands of Afghan refugees.
The announcement came on the heels of repeated calls to the Canadian government to help Afghan nationals that have assisted Canada over the course of the War in Afghanistan. Many of the Afghans, including their families, face retribution by the Taliban — whose forces have continued to sweep across and capture large parts of the country with alarming speed.
About 20,000 Afghans who have already left the country will be resettled by the newly expanded program, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters at a press conference Friday afternoon.
According to him, Canada’s resettlement effort would focus on “those who are particularly vulnerable,” such as women leaders, human rights activists, journalists, religious minorities, members of the LGTBQ2 community as well as the family members of the previously resettled Afghan interpreters.
“As the Taliban continues to take over more of Afghanistan, many more Afghans’ lives are under increasing threat,” said Mendicino, who did not provide a timetable of the resettling efforts during the press conference.
In response to a question from reporters, Mendicino confirmed that the expanded resettlement efforts would only include Afghans that have already left the country.
While the announcement did not include information on whether they would evacuate Afghan nationals still in the country, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said that there were still a number of Canadian flights “that have come, and there are more coming.”
On Thursday evening, Global News learned that the Canadian military was planning to pull out a number of Canadians from its embassy in Kabul. Sources told Global News then that the embassy was “ripping out,” a process that includes discarding classified items and evacuating staff.
The sources also told Global News Thursday that several Afghan nationals and their families were awaiting rescue from a Canadian compound, though the Canadian government was still deciding at the time whether they would be pulled out alongside Canadian citizens there.
Several sources told Global News on Friday that the government had decided to evacuate Afghans working for Canada along with their families, but it is still unclear if those were the same nationals awaiting rescue at the Canadian compound.
According to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Canadian special forces were deployed in Afghanistan and were assisting the relocation effort, though he did not provide any further details.
“The challenges on the ground are quite immense. The security situation that is deteriorating is making this quite difficult,” said Sajjan.
The minister said that their work to resettle the Afghan interpreters as well as the staff that assisted in Canada’s mission there will “continue in the coming days and weeks,” but also did not offer a specific timeline.
“We know that there are many other Afghans who need our help, including those who have fled Afghanistan and remain outside of the country.”
Global News on Thursday learned that some Canadian Special Operations units, including the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) and Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2), were going to be deployed to rescue Canadians from the embassy — the latter of which specializes as an elite counter-terrorist and hostage rescue unit.
The urgency from Canada and other Western countries to leave Afghanistan comes amid a recent offensive by Taliban forces, which have now captured a number of provincial capitals. The U.S. is set to completely withdraw from the country in just weeks.
— With files from Mercedes Stephenson, Reuters and The Canadian Press