Hundreds of Afghans and their families who supported Canada’s military mission to Afghanistan have been forced to leave their Kabul safe houses, where they’ve been hiding for months, afraid they could be targeted by the Taliban.
The safe houses — apartments and hotel rooms scattered across the Afghan capital — were organized by Canadian veterans and paid for with private donations. But money and time have just run out.
“Today we have had to essentially evict everybody that we’ve been keeping in safe houses since July,” said Amanda Moddejonge, a Canadian veteran and volunteer with Aman Lara, the NGO managing the safe houses.
“These people potentially could be harmed very needlessly because our government is not moving fast enough to help them.”
Aman Lara and other veterans groups had previously raised $2 million through private donations. But after months sheltering and feeding around 2,000 Afghans, those funds have run out.
The group says it has no choice but to close the safe houses on Friday.
“We don’t know where we will go,” said Alauddin, whose last name we’re withholding because he used to work for the Canadian Forces.
Alauddin has received approval to move to Canada as a refugee but says his wife and some of his six children are still waiting for their applications to be processed.
Last summer, his family left their home in Kandahar and came to Kabul, where they were told Canada was sending a rescue flight. But when the Taliban rapidly retook control of the capital, Canada’s evacuation plans were grounded.
Since then, Alauddin’s family had been living in a safe house. But today, they were told they had to leave. He spent hours looking for another place to stay but says he has little money left.
“I went to check a lot of houses, but it was too expensive for the rent. Now it’s (getting) cold in Kabul, there’s snow. We don’t have blankets,” he told Global News over WhatsApp, sobbing uncontrollably and wiping his tears with his scarf.
“They didn’t give us food today and they told us if you don’t leave the (safe) house, they’ll cut off electricity and the water line, too.”
He and others say they can’t return to Kandahar, because they’ve heard the Taliban has taken over their homes. There are numerous reports of Afghans being targeted and assaulted in Kandahar for supporting the NATO military campaign.
“It is not safe in Kandahar, because everyone knows now that we worked with the Canadians,” said Siddiqui, a former cook with the Canadian Forces whose two brothers remain trapped in Afghanistan. We’re withholding his last name because he used to work for the Canadian military.
Siddiqui and around 300 other Afghan refugees recently arrived in Toronto, after escaping Afghanistan. With few flights available, they were driven out of the country by Canadian NGO The Veterans Transition Network — a six-hour treacherous trek through the mountains that passed more than a dozen Taliban checkpoints — before finally walking across the border into Pakistan. But those road evacuations have now stalled.
“A lot of the neighbouring countries are a bit frozen at the moment,” said Tim Laidler with the Veterans Transition Network.
“There are different (border entry) requirements. We’re not seeing many people get out by land.”
The Canadian government has committed around $80 million in humanitarian aid to the region, but has so far refused to provide any funding for the safe houses.
When asked whether the government has any plans to provide financial support directly for the safe houses, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said Canada is supporting the veterans’ groups “in their efforts to protect vulnerable persons in Afghanistan including human rights defenders, women peacebuilders, former Canadian Armed Forces interpreters and locally engaged staff.
“Due to security considerations, we do not discuss operational details of our missions abroad.”