Canadians among passengers on Qatari commercial flight from Afghanistan – .

Canadians among passengers on Qatari commercial flight from Afghanistan – .

OTTAWA – An unknown number of Canadians were among the 200 or so foreigners aboard a commercial flight from Afghanistan on Thursday – the first large-scale departure since US forces completed their frantic withdrawal more than a year ago week.

Senior government officials said they were waiting for the flight from Kabul to land in Doha, where Canadian consular officials would count the number of Canadian citizens and permanent residents aboard the Qatar Airways plane.

Foreign Minister Marc Garneau revealed on August 31 that approximately 1,250 Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their families were stranded in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of all US military forces from the country.

Of these, approximately 500 were Canadian citizens.

A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, provided the number of Westerners on the flight and said the new foreign minister and vice -Prime Minister of the Taliban had helped facilitate the departure.

A senior Canadian official said those on board did not include former interpreters and other Afghans who had previously worked with Canada in the country and who are now desperate to escape for fear of Taliban retaliation.

The official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to comment publicly, said the best escape route for these people remains the overland route to Pakistan.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has deployed more staff to bolster the Canadian high commission in Islamabad, the official added, and more people are being sent to help there and to the border with Afghanistan.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is seeking re-election as Liberal candidate for University-Rosedale, declined to confirm the presence of Canadians on the flight from Qatar at a virtual campaign event.

“My priority is to bring so many people home and keep people safe,” she said. “But I will say that we are working very, very hard with partners and allies around the world. And we are hopeful and optimistic that more people will return home in the days to come. “

Canadian authorities “are working to ensure that more people can return home via a variety of different routes,” Freeland added.

Qatari envoy Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani said 200 more passengers would leave Afghanistan on Friday. A diplomat, who requested anonymity, said foreigners, including Americans, would be leaving in the coming days.

The Taliban have repeatedly stated that foreigners and Afghans with appropriate travel documents can leave. But their assurances were met with skepticism, even with the flight departing from Qatar.

As Taliban officials patrolled the tarmac on Thursday, passengers presented their documents for inspection and dogs sniffed luggage lying on the ground. Some veteran airport workers had returned to work after fleeing during the heartbreaking chaos of the US-run airlift.

Irfan Popalzai, 12, boarded the flight with his mother and five siblings. He said his family lives in Maryland.

“I’m Afghan, but you know I’m from America and I’m so excited” to be leaving, he said.

Before the flight took off, Qatari officials gathered on the tarmac to announce that the airport was ready for the resumption of international commercial flights after days of repairs.

The extensive damage suffered during the frantic last days of the US airlift that evacuated more than 100,000 people has raised questions about the time frame for resuming regular commercial service. Experts from Qatar and Turkey rushed to restore operations.

“I can clearly say that this is a historic day in the history of Afghanistan since the Kabul airport is now operational,” said al-Qahtani, the Qatari envoy.

“Call it what you want, a charter flight or a commercial flight, everyone has tickets and boarding passes,” he added. “I hope life will return to normal in Afghanistan. “

The flight was the first to take off from Kabul airport since US forces left the country in late August. The accompanying scenes of chaos, including Afghans plunging to their deaths from the sides of a military plane taking off and a suicide bombing that killed 169 Afghans and 13 US servicemen, came to define the end of the war of two. decades of the United States.

Al-Qahtani said the airport’s radar was now active and covered about 112 kilometers after US forces left it unusable. Authorities coordinated with Pakistan as they tried to settle airspace control, he added. Flights are limited to daylight hours.

The airport is also no longer Hamid Karzai International Airport, but simply Kabul International Airport, with the name of the country’s former president removed. Several white Taliban flags were flown over the terminal, which bore the emblem “The Islamic Emirate seeks peaceful and positive relations with the world”.

Hundreds of other Afghans who say they risk helping the Americans have gathered for more than a week in the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif, awaiting clearance to embark on chartered evacuation flights. It is believed that many of them do not have the necessary travel documents.

Despite skepticism around the world, the Taliban promised that Afghans who worked for the Americans would not be targeted.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 9, 2021.

With files from The Associated Press.


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