Ottawa working to bring as many Afghans 'as possible' to Canada: Trudeau
OTTAWA -- After the first flight of Afghan workers who helped the Canadian military during the war arrived on Canadian soil on Wednesday evening, the prime minister says the operation won't stop there.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Trudeau said Ottawa will continue to bring back Afghan refugees – embassy workers, interpreters, and their families – who are fleeing Taliban retribution.
"We continue to work with Afghan interpreters and support staff around Afghanistan to bring home as many of them as possible," he said.
"We were very pleased to see that first plane arriving yesterday afternoon. It was very emotional for all of us to see people who’ve been there to support Canada, to support Canadians come to their now homes, come to safety."
The flight was filled mostly with embassy staff and their families, and there are questions now as to why the plane was only half full when so many are in danger there.
Earlier in the day, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino expanded on the news, reiterating that more planes carrying Afghans will continue to arrive in the coming days and weeks.
"We know there’s still much more work to be done and I know as more families arrive in the weeks ahead that Canadians are up to the task. Our communities will band around them, to give them the support they need to thrive in their new home," he said.
He also noted that the logistics of the operation were "extraordinarily challenging" given the security factors at play.
"Operational security and the safety of the Afghans and of all Canadian staff are paramount concern. Over the course of this operation, we will not be able to share the details of our work on the ground," Mendicino said.
"We are seized with the urgency of the situation in Afghanistan and we continue to work around the clock here and overseas to help Afghans who have put themselves at great risk to help Canada."
Retired Maj.-Gen. David Fraser told CTV News Channel on Thursday that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating quickly and Canada should prioritize getting those Afghans who helped Canadian troops out as soon as possible.
The former commander of NATO forces in Southern Afghanistan explained that Ottawa's newest electronic application process is "not an easy undertaking" for Afghans who don't have access to a computer.
"We can't think Canadian here, we have to think Afghan where in fact most people have a phone, but they don't have access to internet," Fraser said. "So we've got to make this easy for them, and pick up those pieces that they may not be able to get to because the priority is [to] get them out of harm's way."
Fraser said the first plane that arrived on Wednesday was filled with those Afghans that Canadian operations could easily access. He hopes those located in more dangerous areas, such as Kandahar and Southern Afghanistan, will be brought to Canada next.
"It's a very, very traumatic time for them, and we should do whatever we can to assist them getting out, and to get then some peace and security that you and I take for granted," he said.
The Taliban claims it now controls about 80 per cent of Afghanistan after the U.S. began extracting its military forces – a move U.S. President Joe Biden says will be completed by Aug. 31.
The first group of interpreters that assisted U.S. troops – approximately 220 people – arrived last week. All total, the U.S. has pledged to bring back about 2,500.
The Canadian government has also offered hope to potentially thousands of interpreters, locally engaged staff with the Canadian Embassy and their families who assisted the Canadian Armed Forces on their 10-year deployment.
Some former interpreters who arrived in Canada during two previous resettlement efforts are seeking clarity from the government about whether their families still in Afghanistan are eligible to apply for the current program.
A group of about 100 gathered on Parliament Hill on Tuesday with signs that read "Help: evacuate our people" and "Our work has jeopardized our family members," to demand safe refuge for their loved ones.
Asked whether they’d be eligible on Thursday, Mendicino said their efforts are focused on extracting those who’ve had a "significant and enduring relationship" with the government of Canada in Afghanistan and their families.
He added that the government aims to be as inclusive as they can throughout the process, including in the definition of family or what constitutes a family member.
"The reason we’re trying to be inclusive is we believe we have a moral obligation to do right by those Afghans who for many years put themselves into harms way , put their own lives in jeopardy, as we were carrying out military operations," Mendicino said.
While he was out for a campaign-style event with a candidate at a local market in Ottawa, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters on Thursday that more needs to be done to help those in Afghanistan who aided Canadian troops.
"They put their lives at risk to help us as a nation to work in Afghanistan, and the fact that these interpreters have put their lives at risk and their family's lives at risk, and they're not getting the help they need; it is really a shame," Singh said.
Singh said the resurgence of Taliban activity puts these Afghans at risk for retaliation. He added that he wants to see "a lot quicker" action and more supports to bring these interpreters and their families to safety.
"We know that the threats to their lives is real. We have a responsibility to take care of the people -- our allies -- that took care of us," he said.
With files from CTVNews.ca writer Brooklyn Neustaeter in Toronto