Refugees from Afghanistan and Canadian Citizens board a bus after being processed at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Tuesday, Aug 17, 2021, after arriving indirectly from Afghanistan. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says Canada will work tirelessly to evacuate people from strife-ridden Afghanistan “for as long as it is safe to do so.” Sajjan tells a news conference today the challenging security conditions in Kabul are changing rapidly, even by the hour, but Canadian personnel are doing everything in their power to get people to safety. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Refugees from Afghanistan and Canadian Citizens board a bus after being processed at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Tuesday, Aug 17, 2021, after arriving indirectly from Afghanistan. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says Canada will work tirelessly to evacuate people from strife-ridden Afghanistan “for as long as it is safe to do so.” Sajjan tells a news conference today the challenging security conditions in Kabul are changing rapidly, even by the hour, but Canadian personnel are doing everything in their power to get people to safety. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Ministers defend evacuation efforts in Afghanistan amid dire security challenges

Challenging security conditions changing rapidly, even by the hour

OTTAWA — Canada airlifted another 121 people from strife-ridden Afghanistan on Saturday, including Canadian citizens and family members as well as Afghan nationals accepted for resettlement by Ottawa and its allies, officials said Sunday.

Canada will work tirelessly to evacuate people from Afghanistan “for as long as it is safe to do so,” Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told a news conference on the frantic effort.

Sajjan said the challenging security conditions in Kabul are changing rapidly, even by the hour, but Canadian personnel are doing everything in their power to get people to safety.

The crowding and violence around the Kabul airport continue to pose a “major challenge” for personnel, he added.

On the election campaign trail Sunday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh criticized the Liberals for what he described as a sluggish effort to bring residents who previously supported Canada’s diplomatic and military efforts to safety.

Pressed on whether Canada was doing enough to get people through the airport gates and on to planes, Sajjan said he had to be circumspect about operational details for security reasons, adding various plans are under consideration.

“We’re not discounting anything on what we need to do,” he said. “The security situation is extremely dire right now.”

Sajjan was joined by Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau and Women and Gender Equality Minister Maryam Monsef.

“The stories coming out of Kabul are heartbreaking. People are scared. They fear for their lives, and they’re taking significant risks to try to get to safety,” Garneau said.

“The panic we see in emails and hear during phone calls really drives home the gravity of the situation. We are walking this difficult road with them, helping them step by step to get to safety.”

Mendocino said Canadian personnel “have the full operational discretion to take whatever actions are necessary to get as many people into the airport and onto those flights as quickly as possible.”

“I’ve instructed that processing be accelerated, resources be added and that all red tape be cut without compromising security.”

He also offered assurances that Canada is in “constant contact” with everybody that has applied under its programs, providing direction on how to stay as safe as possible.

Government officials confirmed on Saturday that Canadians had evacuated 106 Afghans from the Kabul airport on Friday and brought them to a safe third country.

Friday’s flight was Canada’s second out of Kabul since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last weekend.

The first left Thursday, with 175 fleeing Afghans and 13 foreign nationals on board.

Officials said the Afghans on Thursday’s flight are bound for other countries, while the 106 on Friday’s are destined for settlement in Canada.

All of the Afghan evacuees on the first two flights were interpreters and other workers who supported Canada’s military and diplomatic efforts in the country, they said.

Monsef, the first Afghan-Canadian elected to Parliament, said the chaos in Kabul had stirred up difficult memories.

She promised to work with colleagues in Canada and around the world to create space for the voices of Afghan women and girls and minorities.

“Their voices must be heard, they must shape Canada’s response and the global response,” she said.

“The Taliban are the same Taliban of 20 years ago.”

A legitimate government would immediately allow for the safe passage of individuals, cease violence and take part in an inclusive peace negotiation that includes women and minorities in a meaningful way, she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 22, 2021.

Afghanistan