TORONTO — Canadian evacuation flights have pulled more than 1,100 people out of Afghanistan this month, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said Sunday, and 40 families evacuated before the Taliban marched into Kabul have now completed their COVID-19 quarantine periods in Canada.
“We have seen 12 flights out and over 1,100 people evacuated. That is remarkable work on the part of our armed forces,” Mendicino told CTV’s Question Period.
Afghan families began arriving in Canada on Aug. 4. Canadian rescue efforts were halted for several days, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has blamed on the Taliban’s presence at the airport in Kabul.
Since evacuation flights resumed on Thursday, Mendicino said, three planes have taken more than 400 people out of the country.
At a press conference on Sunday, Mendicino told reporters that when Canada’s evacuation flights resumed on Aug. 19, a flight of 175 Afghans and 13 foreign nationals left Kabul airport, on Friday, 106 people were evacuated, and on Saturday more than 121 people were evacuated.
The first 40 Afghan families who arrived in Canada earlier this month left COVID-19-related quarantine just days ago, he said.
One family who arrived on Canadian soil on Aug. 4 has already grown. A refugee who arrived that day has had a baby girl, who is a Canadian citizen, said Mendicino.
In the United States, meanwhile, Maj. Gen. William Taylor told reporters on Saturday that the U.S. had evacuated 17,000 people from Afghanistan, including 2,500 U.S. citizens. To further aid their evacuation efforts, the U.S. announced on Sunday that they will use 18 commercial planes to transport people from Kabul.
On Sunday, the White House said that nearly 8,000 people had been evacuated in the last 24 hours on coalition flights, including commercial flights, and U.S. military flights.
With air bridges reopening, there is hope that Canada will be able to aid more people out of Afghanistan, but the unstable situation at Kabul airport is making it difficult.
“The situation on the ground is volatile, it’s precarious. And so we’re staying in constant contact with all the people we’re trying to help, and we’ve given full operational discretion to the armed forces to make whatever calls they need to get those people on flights, and as you seen, we’ve made some progress but there’s more work to do,” Mendicino told Question Period host Evan Solomon.
However, the minister said it is expected that the Taliban will follow through on their word to let people who want to leave, leave.
“We’ve made it very clear publicly and we’ll continue to do so that it’s our expectation that the Taliban allow every person who’s trying to leave Afghanistan safe passage to do so,” he said.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told reporters at a press conference on Sunday that the situation on the ground at Kabul airport is changing by the hour.
“The situation on the ground is extremely chaotic and difficult,” he said.