Canada’s minister of immigration says that the country’s current evacuation effort in Afghanistan, which to date totals the rescue of over a thousand refugees, is “nothing short of miraculous” given the current logistical obstacles and Canada’s lack of military presence within the country.
Marco Mendicino made the statement during an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday, after being asked if he was worried that they would not be able to bring home everyone they had promised to by the time the Americans wrap up their evacuation efforts.
“The last time the Canadians had a military operation in Afghanistan was 10 years ago, our last armed forces member left seven years ago,” said Mendicino.
“And so to be able to in a few short weeks, get a military presence back on the ground, start flights running again, established an air bridge with our coalition forces, set up an entirely complex, dynamic process — to get people on those flights as quickly as possible has been nothing short of miraculous.”
The question for the immigration minister comes amid what some have described as a slow process to resettle approximately 21,000 people from Afghanistan. Government officials, including Mendicino’s own department, have faced heavy criticism over the last week on their handling of Canada’s evacuation and refugee resettling process.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that it would be “almost impossible” to get many people out of the country in the coming weeks due to the Taliban blocking access to Afghans wishing to leave.
“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 told reporters on Thursday.
The Liberal leader had also previously announced that two Canadian aircrafts would be making regular flights to and from Afghanistan to help evacuate people.
While Trudeau pointed to the Taliban as being the main hindrance to the evacuation process, some of those working on the ground there said that Canada’s lack of communication has presented a much bigger issue.
“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,” immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges told Global News earlier this week.
“The issue is that there’s just no information out there. The system is so opaque.”
According to several military and foreign affairs sources, the U.S. will most likely stay on the ground until the end of the month.
That timeline — less than two weeks from now — presents a tight challenge to Canadian officials organizing the evacuation effort, as well as to the thousands of Afghans awaiting rescue within the country.
Officials on Saturday confirmed the departure of a transport plane that carried 106 more Afghans to a safe third country. It was the second Canadian flight to leave Afghanistan since the country fell to the Taliban last weekend.
The first flight, which departed Thursday, had about 198 people on board, officials told Global News. In comparison, one of the earlier U.S. transport flights brought 823 people on the same exact plane — a C-17 Globemaster.
Sources and officials told Global News that there was a discussion on limiting the amount of people on the planes over seatbelt capabilities and issues with crews not being trained on air-to-air refueling. The planes have, however, been cleared to take on more than the 188 passenger limit, though aircrew would determine whether to surpass it on a case-by-case basis.
Mendicino pointed to Canada having already completed at least 10 flights carrying passengers from Afghanistan prior to the Taliban’s takeover, and said that he has already instructed his department to cut through “all the red tape,” opting to waive passport and COVID-19 test requirements.
“The bottom line is we’ll do whatever it takes to get as many people out as quickly as possible,” said Mendicino.
— With files from The Canadian Press, Rachel Gilmore and Mercedes Stephenson