First flight of Afghan refugees who helped CAF arrives in Canada

The first “of a number of flights” carrying Afghan refugees who helped Canadian military personnel while deployed in Afghanistan has arrived in Canada.

In a statement on Wednesday evening, the federal government did not disclose how many refugees were on an evacuation flight that landed in Canada, but that more flights will be arriving in the coming days and weeks.

“We committed to do right by the Afghans who supported Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. With the arrival of the first resettled Afghan refugees in Canada, we are making good on that promise,” a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada wrote in a news release.

CTV News cameras at the Toronto Pearson International Airport spotted more than three dozen Afghan refugees leaving a military transport on Wednesday evening, including several children and seniors.

The government said that each of the refugees have met the “eligibility, admissibility and security screenings” required to enter Canada. They have all been tested for COVID-19 and will follow Canada’s quarantine requirements.

“To help the Afghans adjust to life in Canada, service provider organizations in communities across Canada are preparing to welcome them,” the statement read. “Settlement organizations will help them to find permanent housing, language training, a job and connections with established immigrants and Canadians and provide them with the information that they need about life in Canada.”

SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN ‘DIRE’

The Afghans arriving in Canada helped the Canadian military during a 10-year deployment in the country during the Afghanistan war, but are now in danger due to a resurgent Taliban threat.

“The government has been seized with the urgency on the ground and is working as quickly as possible to resettle Afghan nationals who put themselves at great risk to support Canada’s work in Afghanistan,” the IRCC statement read. “We have been working around the clock to identify individuals eligible to come to Canada under this special immigration program.”

The Taliban claims it controls about 80 per cent of Afghanistan after the U.S. began taking troops out of the country. U.S. President Joe Biden has set a goal of having all its troops out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31. The U.S. welcomed its first planeload of refugees into their country over the weekend.

“We are experiencing a dire situation,” Hassan Soroosh, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Canada, said in an interview with CTV News. “We are basically fighting an enemy who’s not committed to any rules of humanitarian law.”

“They continue using civilians as human shields.”

Ahmad, a former Afghan interpreter in Canada who’s identity is being protected for his family’s safety, said the situation has become so dire in his home country that his family has received a threatening letter from the Taliban.

“They're really scared because, for how long they can live there? And they can't even get out of the house,” Ahmad said.

Soroosh said reports have indicated the Taliban killed more than 5,000 civilian Afghans in the first six months of 2021, but he’s confident in his country’s ability to handle the situation in the long term.

"Our security and defense forces have shown both courage and dedication in terms of defending our country,” he said. “They’ve been able -- for instance -- to recapture some of the districts.”

"We are very much hopeful that the overall situation will get improved to the extent that no one will have to leave the country in the months to come."

GOVERNMENT FACED MOUNTING PRESSURE TO ACT

The Canadian government has faced mounting pressure over the past days and weeks for not resettling the refugees sooner.

The government said two weeks ago that it would expedite the process of bringing the interpreters to Canada, but the process has suffered several set backs, including in deciding who is eligible for the assistance.

Last week, the federal government announced that those wishing to come to Canada only had 72 hours to do apply, which Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan later said was a “mistake.”

Corey Shelson, a Canadian veteran from Kingston, Ont., who’s been pleading with the government to help out the Afghans, news of the first airlift is a relief, but concern remains for those who are still in Afghanistan.

"We have to ask ourselves: ‘Are the people who are relocated now the stranded interpreters that we have been advocating for, or is this a group of people who had to get out of dodge because the situation is getting so bad?’" he said.

Shelson said it’s believed most of the Afghans who arrived are embassy staff and their families, rather than the interpreters, cooks, drivers and other support staff who’ve been desperately pleading for help.

For security reasons, it’s not being disclosed where they are being transported for quarantine.

With files from CTV National News Senior Political Correspondent Glen McGregor, CTVNews.ca Producer Sarah Turnbull and The Canadian Press

You were there for Canadians, and now we’re here for you. Welcome to Canada. https://t.co/mMIO86mpa2

— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) August 5, 2021