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U.S. helps bring refugees to Canada, but 1,250 Canadians remain in Afghanistan

Click to play video: 'Afghanistan crisis: 1,250 Canadians still remain after evacuations end, minister says' Afghanistan crisis: 1,250 Canadians still remain after evacuations end, minister says
WATCH: Afghanistan crisis: 1,250 Canadians still remain after evacuations end, minister says – Aug 31, 2021

Canada is accepting 5,000 Afghan refugees evacuated by the United States, federal officials said Tuesday as they work to rescue 1,250 Canadians stuck in the Taliban-ruled country.

The deal comes as part of a new agreement reached with the U.S. in order to secure safe passage for Afghans fleeing the Islamist militant group, said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino. They will be accepted as part of the government’s expanded 20,000 Afghan refugee program.

He added Canada has received assurances from the Taliban that they will allow safe passage for those seeking to leave, as Canada works to evacuate citizens it left behind. Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau pegged that number at 1,250.

Click to play video: 'What’s next for Afghanistan after the International exit' What’s next for Afghanistan after the International exit
What’s next for Afghanistan after the International exit – Aug 31, 2021

Read more: Taliban celebrate return to power as U.S. leaves Afghanistan after 20-year war

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They include Canadian citizens, permanent residents and family members.

“I would like to say that at the moment our advice to Canadians and Canadian permanent residents in Afghanistan and vulnerable Afghans is to stay put because the situation at this point is uncertain,” he said.

“Of course, we can’t prevent any personal decisions that may be made by people on the ground in Kabul.”

Click to play video: 'Afghanistan crisis: Canada to accept 5,000 Afghan refugees evacuated by U.S. military' Afghanistan crisis: Canada to accept 5,000 Afghan refugees evacuated by U.S. military
Afghanistan crisis: Canada to accept 5,000 Afghan refugees evacuated by U.S. military – Aug 31, 2021

On Monday, the United States withdrew its forces out of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan following a two-decade-long war. The U.S. and other Western nations, including Canada, have been scrambling for weeks to airlift hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking to flee the Taliban regime.

Canada sent forces back to the region to assist in the effort, but fully withdrew its physical presence from the region on Aug. 26.

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Garneau added that Canada and other allies are pressuring the Taliban to allow anyone with valid travel documents to leave the country, with hopes Kabul’s international airport will soon resume operations now that it’s under Taliban control.

Click to play video: 'Afghanistan crisis: Canada received assurances from Taliban that refugees, nationals would be allowed to leave, immigration minister says' Afghanistan crisis: Canada received assurances from Taliban that refugees, nationals would be allowed to leave, immigration minister says
Afghanistan crisis: Canada received assurances from Taliban that refugees, nationals would be allowed to leave, immigration minister says – Aug 31, 2021

Furthermore, he said that officials are in contact with neighbouring countries to accept Afghans who wish to come to Canada. Garneau is scheduled to speak with officials from Pakistan sometime on Tuesday.

“At the moment, the situation at the Pakistan border changes on a regular basis. It’s important to know that and sometimes certain points are open and other points are closed,” he said.

“So, we are going to be talking with Pakistan to tell them that if anybody does arrive at that border, or other neighbouring countries, we would like them to facilitate their entry and of course, our embassies and consulates are waiting to process them to get them on to Canada.”

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Canada evacuated roughly 3,700 people from Afghanistan during its efforts in the country. On Aug. 27, the government announced it secured 500 seats on a U.S. flight for Afghans leaving the country. The U.S. and its allies evacuated more than 123,000 people in two weeks.

What happens next in Afghanistan?

With Western governments now physically out of Afghanistan, the focus will shift to holding the Taliban to their promises, Garneau promised.

“Afghans with travel documents to other countries must be allowed to move safely and freely out of the country without interference. Canada and its allies are firm on this point, and we are united,” he said.

“This will be the first true test for the Taliban from the international community. We will judge them by their actions, not their words.”

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

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On Tuesday, the Taliban celebrated in victory following America’s withdrawal and reiterated their pledge to bring peace and security to the country.

Many Afghans have their doubts, and wait to see what the future holds.

The Taliban is in the “final stages” of forming government and will take shape in a few days, senior leader Anas Haqqani told Al Jazeera. The Taliban will rule a nation of 38 million people that relies heavily on international aid.

Click to play video: 'Afghan-Canadians worry for safety of loved ones' Afghan-Canadians worry for safety of loved ones
Afghan-Canadians worry for safety of loved ones – Aug 30, 2021

Top Taliban official Hekmatullah Wasiq told The Associated Press they want people to return to work and reiterated their amnesty offer to all Afghans who had fought against the group over the last 20 years.

The Associated Press reports that since the Taliban takeover on Aug. 15, the country’s economic crisis has worsened as people flocked to banks to withdraw their life savings. Civil servants haven’t been paid in months and the national currency is slumping.

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Most of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves are held abroad and currently frozen.

Read more: ‘We want peace’: Afghans in Kabul face uncertainty as Taliban tighten grip

A drought threatens the food supply, and thousands who fled the country remain in camps.

“Afghanistan is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe,” said Ramiz Alakbarov, the local U.N. humanitarian coordinator. He added US$1.3 billion is needed for aid efforts, only 39 per cent of which has been received.

David Edwards, a professor with Williams College in the U.S., previously told Global News the Taliban are promising to be more moderate because they realize they need foreign aid.

“I think the Taliban recognize – or at least one faction within the Taliban recognizes – that they have to govern now and they have to do a better job at governing versus when they had power back in the late 1990s and 2000s,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Afghanistan crisis: Pentagon announces last forces have left country after almost 20 years' Afghanistan crisis: Pentagon announces last forces have left country after almost 20 years
Afghanistan crisis: Pentagon announces last forces have left country after almost 20 years – Aug 30, 2021

During that time, the Taliban banned television, music and even photography, but there’s no sign of that yet. TV stations are still operating normally, and Taliban fighters have been seen taking selfies around Kabul, according to The Associated Press.

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Schools are open to boys and girls, though the Taliban have said they will study separately. Women are out on the streets wearing Islamic headscarves — as they always have — rather than the all-encompassing burqa the Taliban required in the past.

For now, the Taliban appeared to be focused on getting the country running again. They are expected to address the reopening of Kabul airport first, where thousands flocked to flee the group and where hundreds died during an ISIS-K suicide bombing on Aug. 26.

–          with files from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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