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How many Canadians are still in Afghanistan? Government won’t say

Click to play video: 'Taliban takeover reaches Afghanistan capital' Taliban takeover reaches Afghanistan capital
WATCH: Taliban takeover reaches Afghanistan capital – Aug 15, 2021

The government won’t disclose how many Canadians are still stuck on the ground in Afghanistan, citing security reasons as the Taliban tightens their grip on the country and swarm the nation’s capital.

Journalists have faced a torrent of messages in recent days from people in Afghanistan who say they fear for their lives. Many had been told to travel to Kabul, where the Canadian embassy is located, but were greeted by an abandoned building when they arrived.

The unstable situation has many fearing they might be left behind — and an unknown number of Canadians may be in that position.

“Due to the security situation in Afghanistan, Global Affairs is not disclosing the number of Canadians who are registered in the Registration of Canadians Abroad (ROCA) database,” read an emailed statement from a Global Affairs Canada (GAC) spokesperson, sent to Global News Sunday evening.

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Read more: Taliban claim Afghanistan ‘war is over’ as president, diplomats flee country

Insurgents took control of the presidential palace in Kabul on Sunday, declaring in an interview with Al Jazeera TV that “the war is over.” The Taliban took just over a week to seize control over the country after sweeping the country and bulldozing Afghan forces — despite their years of Western training and billions of dollars in foreign-provided equipment.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says Canada ‘heartbroken’ over situation in Afghanistan; pledges further support for interpreters' Trudeau says Canada ‘heartbroken’ over situation in Afghanistan; pledges further support for interpreters
Trudeau says Canada ‘heartbroken’ over situation in Afghanistan; pledges further support for interpreters – Aug 15, 2021

As the situation heated up, Canada quickly halted diplomatic operations and tore its embassy staff out of the country. But many of those who helped Canadian troops during their time in Afghanistan, including interpreters and their families, remain trapped in the country.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau came under criticism from other parties for choosing to call an election on Sunday, as the Taliban descended on Kabul.

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“Our democracy, and our democratic institutions are strong enough to be able to ensure that even as we do this important work for Afghanistan, we’re able to check in and make sure that Canadians have their voice on the extraordinarily pressing issues facing them here in this country, right now and for the coming years,” Trudeau said when pressed on the decision.

Read more: Concerns mount for Afghans who helped Canada as Taliban tighten grip on Kabul

Canada will be accepting 20,000 Afghans, he added.

“We are extremely concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and I can assure you that officials, and indeed ministers, continue and will continue to weigh in on protecting Canadians, getting Canadians safely out of Afghanistan and continuing to step up as Canada has so many times around the world to bring people to safety,” Trudeau said.

Still, his assurances didn’t spare him from criticism — including from Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.

“It’s horrible to see the Taliban once again securing control of the country,” he said.

“Canada must work with our allies, and we’re going to be standing up for dignity and for human rights as a government, because Mr. Trudeau has not.”

Click to play video: 'Video shows Taliban members inside Afghanistan’s Presidential Palace' Video shows Taliban members inside Afghanistan’s Presidential Palace
Video shows Taliban members inside Afghanistan’s Presidential Palace – Aug 15, 2021

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also tore into Trudeau over the timing of his election call.

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“I wouldn’t have called an election,” he said.

“I would be deploying all resources possible to get those that are at risk out of Afghanistan, provide them with help to evacuate not only the people directly impacted, but their families as well.”

Meanwhile, the situation in Afghanistan remains dire. The airport in Kabul has been flooded by Afghans trying to escape the country and fearing they may be left behind. Reports have emerged of revenge killings and brutal tactics from the Taliban in areas they secured in recent days — leaving many desperate to escape the insurgents’ grips.

“They’re living hour by hour. They don’t know what’s going to happen next hour, what’s going to happen at the end of the day,” said Baktash Nasseri, an Afghan-Canadian also living in Scarborough, in a prior interview with Global News.

“It’s very sad, it’s nerve-breaking to see.”

— with files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun, Reuters

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