Speaking at an official update, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters Canada is continuing to work with allies to get citizens and refugees out, despite its military evacuation operation ending.
“Yesterday, we secured approximately 500 seats on an American airlift, and they are now safely out of Kabul,” he said. “We will continue to work with the United States and others to establish air bridges wherever we can, even beyond the anticipated withdrawal of the coalition on August 31.”
As part of Canada’s efforts to accelerate evacuations, Mendicino said the government will also bring in a “temporary public policy” measure to waive fees for immigration documents for Afghans.
“We will wave fees for Afghans with a valid confirmation of permanent residence who are outside of Canada, but who can’t get a passport or travel document, Afghans already in Canada who are seeking an extension or restoration of their temporary residence and Canadian citizens, permanent residents and families in Afghanistan or in a third country en-route to Canada,” he added.
On Thursday, Canada’s evacuation efforts in Afghanistan ended, despite officials indicating that some Canadians and Afghans were left behind.
Canada’s departure came hours before an attack outside Kabul’s international airport, where thousands of Afghans have flocked in an attempt to escape the nation.
The Associated Press reports 169 people have been killed, citing two official sources, and that number is expected to rise. The terrorist group ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the blast, and U.S. officials warned more attacks are anticipated.
No Canadians were reported to have been injured, but 13 U.S. troops and many more Afghans were killed, Canadian, American and Afghani officials said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said Canada rescued 3,700 people during its military operation, but is unsure how many Canadians or Afghans remain in the region.
To those who are stuck, “don’t lose hope,” Garneau said.
“This is heart-wrenching given the security situation on the ground,” he said. “Let me be clear: we will not stop looking for other paths to bring these people home.”
Garneau told reporters the U.S. flight carried out 500 “of our people,” and said Canada had been extracting Afghans destined for other countries during its operation.
Now, without a physical presence in the country, Garneau said Canada is working with allies to process Afghans who are seeking the country’s help.
“Coordinating our efforts with our friends and partners enabled some to leave on allied flights,” he said.
“At this time, our consular services continue to communicate with and support Canadian citizens and permanent residents who remain in Afghanistan. We will continue to have discussions with our partners and explore avenues for them to return to Canada.”
Garneau added Canada has notified embassy staff in neighbouring countries to be ready to assist Afghans who have left the country through land crossings.
“We will be ready in all of the countries they may possibly come to, to receive them at our consulates and embassies,” he said. “So this is something that will occur in the coming weeks and months, but at the moment we’re asking people to stay put because there are a lot of things going on at the moment and we’ll keep in constant contact with them.”
Mendicino stressed that the visas Canada approved for Afghans will remain valid if they end up in a third country.
“If you have a visa in hand, but we’re not able to get out yet, it’s still valid and we’re going to do everything that we possibly can to make sure that it’s honoured, whether you’re getting out by flight, or by land, out of Afghanistan or in a third country,” he said.
Furthermore, Garneau added that neighbouring countries are speaking with the Taliban to reopen Kabul’s airport after Western forces leave in order to keep humanitarian aid flowing and to allow people to travel freely.
He stressed, however, that nobody knows if that will occur, but said it’s in the Taliban’s best interest to do so.
Since the Taliban took control of the capital, and country, on Aug. 15, the airport has been chaotic with thousands of Afghans trying to flee in fear of a return to the militants’ brutal rule.
When they last reigned between 1996 and 2001, the Islamist group cut off the hands of thieves, stoned adulterers and banned women from attending school or working outside the home, among other things.
But they’re promising now to be a more moderate ruler, and vowed “amnesty” to Afghans who worked with Western forces during the U.S.-led War on Terror, and claimed to want women in government.
Many Afghans are skeptical of their promises as the Taliban have been shown to crack down on dissidents.
Just before the Taliban took Kabul, the United States, Canada and their allies began one of the biggest air evacuations in history, bringing out about 100,000 people to date, Mendicino said Friday.
— with files from The Associated Press.