Evacuating as many Afghans as Canada wants ‘nearly impossible’: Trudeau

Click to play video: 'Afghanistan crisis: Clock ticking to get refugees out of country'
Afghanistan crisis: Clock ticking to get refugees out of country
WATCH ABOVE: Desperate scenes are playing out at Kabul's airport, the only way out for Afghans desperate to escape the Taliban. The U.S. and NATO forces now control the airport, but they can't guarantee safe access. Jackson Proskow reports on the fragile exit strategy – Aug 19, 2021

It will be “almost impossible” to get many people out of Afghanistan in the coming weeks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned reporters on Thursday.

That’s because the Taliban is continuing to block access for Afghans wishing to leave the country, he said.

“Unless the Taliban shift their posture significantly, which is something the international community and Canada are working on, it is going to be very, very difficult to get many people out,” Trudeau, who is running for re-election, told reporters.

“We will get some, certainly, but to get many people out, as many as we’d want, is going to be almost impossible in the coming weeks.”

Click to play video: 'Afghan refugee plan: Fears, frustration over slow progress in Canada'
Afghan refugee plan: Fears, frustration over slow progress in Canada

Read more: Canada has reached a deal for 2 military planes to resume ‘flying regularly’ into Kabul

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The admission comes just after the Liberal leader announced that two Canadian planes will be making regular flights to and from Kabul to help evacuate people from the region. Canadian troops have also arrived on the ground to help international partners with the evacuation efforts, Trudeau said.

Still, he cautioned, there are lots of hurdles hampering these efforts.

“There are real challenges and impediments on the ground in terms of getting people out, even though there is a clear wish, obviously by Canada and by countries around the world to get as many people out to safety as possible,” he said.

“The situation on the ground is extremely complex, extremely difficult.”

Click to play video: 'Emerging signs of resistance to Taliban rule in Afghanistan'
Emerging signs of resistance to Taliban rule in Afghanistan

As the conditions in the country quickly destabilized in the last week, Canada pledged to bring over 20,000 people from Afghanistan into the country.

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However, progress on filling those spots has been slow — and while Trudeau pointed to the Taliban as the biggest impediment to evacuation progress, those working on the ground say Canada’s lack of communication has been a much bigger issue for those seeking safety.

“The information that I’m hearing from other lawyers and from people who are contacting me from Afghanistan is that getting to the airport is not really the issue,” said immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges.

“The issue is that there’s just no information out there. The system is so opaque.”

Desloges wasn’t alone in her concerns.

“All we know is that the Canadian government website was updated to state that they will now expand the (refugee) program for vulnerable groups such as human rights leaders, people from the LGBTQ community,” said Roushan.

“But we don’t know anything else about the program.”

Read more: ‘No special hotline’: Canadian hurdles keep Afghan refugee offer out of reach, lawyers say

There’s no clear indication of who is eligible for one of the over 20,000 seats on a plane to Canada, Desloges explained, nor how to go about accessing this help.

“There’s only very general information,” Desloges said. “All of the lawyers have been talking to each other because we’re all getting these calls and nobody really knows what to tell people.”

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When pressed on these issues on Thursday, the Liberal leader said the government is working to beat down the barriers preventing Afghans from accessing Canadian help.

“It is an extremely difficult situation, but I can assure you that I, and our ministers, and our government is working extremely hard to ease all the barriers, whether they be around paperwork or bureaucratic, to ensure that people are getting out of there as quickly as possible and to safety,” Trudeau said.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau discusses Afghanistan evacuations, says situation is ‘extremely difficult’'
Trudeau discusses Afghanistan evacuations, says situation is ‘extremely difficult’

As the confusion continues, planes are starting to arrive carrying people from Afghanistan. Trudeau confirmed that 92 people arrived on Canadian soil Tuesday night alone — and more will be coming.

“We’ve so far evacuated over 800 Afghans under our Special Immigration Measures, more than 500 of whom are already starting new lives in Canada,” said Alexander Cohen, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, in an emailed statement to Global News.

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And as Canada ramps up its flights to the region, other countries have been continuing their evacuation efforts. American, French, Dutch, German, Spanish and British aircraft all left the country with evacuees on Wednesday, the BBC reported.

Trudeau defended Canada’s evacuation efforts, noting that “many” of these international flights “have been leaving Afghanistan and leaving the Kabul airport not full.”

“I can assure you that Canada, our forces and our personnel are working as hard as they can every single day to get people out of Afghanistan following up,” he said.

Read more: The Taliban are promising they’ve changed. Be ‘highly skeptical,’ experts say

For those who remain trapped in Afghanistan, however, reports of a brutal crackdown have been emerging.

“On the ground, there’s plenty of reports of groups of Taliban fighters knocking door-to-door, looking for those who were, as they believe, conspirators with the Western forces,” said Bessma Momani, a Middle East expert at the University of Waterloo.

“Certainly a lot of women (are) being denied access to education. Already, we’re seeing reports of that.”

The Taliban has been designated by Canada as a terrorist organization. They held power in Afghanistan for five years until the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

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Click to play video: 'Afghan refugees board bus after arriving in Canada from Kabul'
Afghan refugees board bus after arriving in Canada from Kabul

A report from the U.S. State Department published during that time found women living under the Taliban were forbidden from attending school or work, were subject to rape and forced marriages by the Taliban. They required women to wear burqas in public and refused to let women leave their homes without a male escort.

Punishments were severe. The report found the Taliban also carried out public executions, chopped off the hands of thieves and stoned women accused of adultery to death.

The conditions in Afghanistan improved over the two decades since the U.S. began its longest war in Afghanistan. A new constitution calling for women’s equality was adopted, the first democratic election was held, and nearly all Afghans had access to electricity.

Now, with the Taliban back in power, the future remains foggy.

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“Time will tell what the rule of the Taliban will bring,” Momani said.

— with files from Global News

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