Taliban checkpoints and Canadian bureaucracy hampering rescue efforts in Afghanistan – .

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Taliban checkpoints and Canadian bureaucracy hampering rescue efforts in Afghanistan – .


People wait outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 17, 2021.

STRINGER/Reuters

Efforts to evacuate expatriates and former Afghan support personnel are hampered by a network of checkpoints the Taliban have set up throughout Kabul, as those seeking airlifts to Canada are also grappling with what is described as unreasonable demands for release documents.

About 800 former Afghan translators, repairers and employees who worked for the Canadian military or diplomats are in hiding in Kabul, as are an unknown number of Canadians. They fear for their lives and do not know how to get safely to the city’s airport for flights to Canada, as the Taliban consolidate their control over Afghanistan.

“The Taliban have taken over the approaches to the airport, making it extremely difficult for people to get to and from the airport. This is something we continue to work on, ”Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday.

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Added to fear is frustration with the bureaucracy of the Canadian government. Federal bureaucrats are inundated with rescue requests from hundreds of people after the rapid collapse of Afghan security forces amid the advance of the Taliban.

Mohammad Qasim Popal, a Canadian citizen who traveled to Kabul on August 3 to visit his ailing mother, frantically tried to contact Global Affairs for help boarding a military flight.

“They said there was nothing they could do for me,” he told The Globe and Mail. “I even asked to contact one of the superiors, and they told me he was too busy. “

Global Affairs told him to email his Emergency Watch and Response Center. He received an automated response, claiming that “the overall situation had deteriorated rapidly” and advising him to register online and “closely monitor emails for any incoming messages issued through this service”.

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” I am in danger. The longer I wait, the more my life is in danger, ”he said on Tuesday. “Last night the Taliban came to my brother’s house and were looking for us, and we went to hide with a neighbor.

A Canadian government official said that with the airport in Kabul secured by US forces, Ottawa plans to send military planes to the city shortly to pick up more evacuees. Canada has a number of military aircraft in Kuwait. The planes were due to be sent to Kabul on Wednesday, said the official, whom The Globe does not name because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

On Tuesday evening, the Canadian military aircraft in Kuwait included a CC-177 heavy lift Globemaster, two C-130J Hercules transport planes and an Airbus CC-150 Polaris, which is often used for passenger transport, according to Steffan Watkins, an Ottawa-based Research Consultant who tracks planes and ships around the world. Kuwait is located approximately 2,000 kilometers by air from Kabul.

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As late as Sunday, when the Taliban seized Kabul, the Canadian Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration was still asking future Afghan evacuees to provide proof of passports.

When the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15, Besmellah Khuram sat in his living room in Sacramento and called his family in Afghanistan. Gloria Tso has more. Reuters

The ministry was also encouraging them to apply for passports if they didn’t have them – an impossible task in a country where the government apparatus has been disrupted by the Taliban takeover.

An email sent Sunday evening from the department’s relocation operations office, a copy of which was viewed by The Globe, told an Afghan claimant that in order to process his claim, “we need a scan or a scan. a passport photo for each member. of your family.

The ministry email also told the applicant that “we strongly encourage you to apply for a passport if you are able to do so safely.”

The applicant is a former fixer who worked in Afghanistan for Sally Armstrong, a seasoned Canadian journalist who has covered the country over the years.

Ms Armstrong, who is trying to help former media support staff and others in Afghanistan flee, said the demands were puzzling. Passports for exit control were a requirement that had been set by the former US-backed Afghan government.

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She said that “hardly anyone has a passport” in Afghanistan. “I think the Government of Canada, after 20 years of dealing with Afghanistan, should know what Afghans have and don’t have,” Armstrong said.

Alexander Cohen, press secretary to Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, confirmed that the request for passport documents in the Sunday email was based on an exit demand from the now defunct Afghan government. “The email that was sent out on Sunday night was obviously an old text that shouldn’t have been sent by then,” Cohen said.

Ms. Armstrong said many Afghans who apply for resettlement in Canada have told her they have had no response. “They say to me, ‘No one said they received my documents; no one answered me, ”she said.

She said many Afghans are trying to eliminate any evidence of their work with foreign organizations and military. A former fixer is in hiding in Kabul and is trying to strip his computer of information that could lead to Taliban retaliation, she said.

Mr. Trudeau told reporters that Canada would not accept people without proper documents on flights to Canada, but added that he had asked government officials to be more flexible with their requirements for online applications.

“Immigration officials assured me that all the flexibility has been given to allow people who cannot complete things online to be able to submit their information. There are phone calls, there are ways to contact people to help them, ”he said.

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He also said Canada would not recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan. “They are a recognized terrorist organization under Canadian law,” he said.

On Tuesday, a charter plane carrying a group of 92 Afghan refugees who had worked for Canada, as well as Canadian citizens, touched down at Pearson Airport in Toronto. The passengers had initially left Afghanistan a few days ago – before Kabul was invaded by the Taliban. There have so far been at least 10 flights carrying evacuees to Canada.

Retired Major-General Denis Thompson, who is part of a group of veterans and volunteers trying to rescue Afghans with ties to Canada, said two security sources were on the ground for him provide “real-time intelligence”.

They told him that the Taliban not only set up checkpoints, but even accompanied a group of United Nations workers to the airport. The Taliban have also gone house to house looking for Afghans who have collaborated with Western countries, Thompson said.

The group has around 800 Afghans staying in more than a dozen shelters in Kabul, with 1,200 others waiting outside the city.

“My feeling is that the Taliban will not give a pass to anyone other than the expatriates, then they will remain silent on August 31 when we are all out of Kabul, then the recriminations will begin,” Thompson said.

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He criticized the refusal of Canadian officials to share information about whether any of the 800 people staying in shelters are on the list of people to be airlifted to Canada.

“It’s a black hole in immigration, and we can’t get any information out of it. … We are totally stunned by the lack of information, ”he said.

Retired Major-General David Fraser said it was becoming increasingly difficult to use shelters to protect Afghans who worked for the military and foreign governments. He said the usefulness of a shelter depends on “who is your neighbor now”.

On Tuesday, the Conservatives urged the Liberals to immediately order Canadian military planes in Kabul. Conservative defense spokesman James Bezan said Trudeau and his ministers must instruct the military to rescue people “before it’s too late.”

Mr. Bezan said Canadian military veterans told him how Afghan support personnel are now burning documents that link them to Canada. “They know they would be killed if they were caught,” he said.

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