Ex-NATO adviser living in Winnipeg fears for Canadian citizens, permanent residents stranded in Afghanistan

A former NATO advisor and political analyst living in Winnipeg says he’s worried dozens of Canadian citizens and permanent residents he knows of won't be evacuated from Afghanistan before the Aug. 31 deadline set by the U.S. 

'They're afraid for their lives,' says Zobair Deen, who is trying help friends, former colleagues get out

In this image provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, a Canadian coalition forces member walks through an evacuation control checkpoint during ongoing evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla/U.S. Marine Corps/The Associated Press)

A former NATO advisor and political analyst living in Winnipeg says he's worried dozens of Canadian citizens and permanent residents he knows of won't be evacuated from Afghanistan before the Aug. 31 deadline set by the U.S. 

"I don't believe that they're going to be able to get out of Afghanistan before Aug. 31, unless [the] Canadian government makes drastic changes to their approach in evacuating Canadians out of Afghanistan," Zobair Deen said in an interview Tuesday. 

Evacuation efforts at the airport in Kabul have been ramping up, as the deadline for U.S. forces to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this month inches closer. 

Deen spent a decade working in Afghanistan and has been trying to help get friends and former colleagues out of the country. 

But, he and another person based in Ontario have also been in contact with dozens of Canadian citizens and permanent residents who say they've yet to receive the necessary documentation that would help facilitate their evacuation, he said. 

"They're afraid for their lives," Deen told CBC.  

Zobair Deen was a NATO advisor for a decade in Afghanistan and is now trying to get friends and former colleagues out of the country. (Supplied by Zobair Deen)

He said people have been reaching out to him, because of the challenges they are facing trying to reach the government of Canada's emergency consular assistance. He said he's been trying to make calls on their behalf. 

Many of the Canadian citizens and permanent residents he's been in contact with were in Afghanistan to visit family, not knowing the government would collapse, he said.

"I personally did not know any of them, I got to know them over the phone," said Deen. "For me it's been such an emotional journey to walk with each one that calls me for help because I essentially am their lifeline to the outside world."

In a statement, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said work with allies to evacuate as many Canadians and vulnerable Afghans as possible continues. 

"The situation on the ground remains extremely volatile and officials are in constant communication with Canadians who requested assistance to verify personal information and communicate next steps," said the statement. "Canada is closely monitoring the situation on the ground in Kabul and across the country.

"We call on the Taliban to respect and facilitate the safe departure of all those who wish to leave Afghanistan. The Kabul airport, as well as roads and border crossings, must remain open."

Earlier this month, the Canadian government said it plans to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Afghans threatened by the Taliban and forced to flee Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada is prepared to keep military personnel in Afghanistan, if possible, after the American deadline.    

"We're going to continue to work every single day to get as many people out alongside our allies. The commitment by our fellow G7 nations is clear — we're all going to work together to save as many people as possible," he said. 

A PMO spokesman later clarified that Canada would stay in Kabul if there was an extension of the U.S. Aug. 31 deadline.

Ariana Yaftali, co-founder of the Afghan-Canadian Women's Association, said one of the challenges for the Afghan community in Canada is the unknown. 

Ariana Yaftali, the co-founder of the Afghan-Canadian Women's Association, a non-profit that supports Afghan women and their families in Winnipeg. (CBC)

Yaftali, who lives in Winnipeg, said she's hearing from people in Manitoba and all over the country who are worried about their friends and family in Afghanistan. 

"We are confused and helpless … not knowing how to, what message to give them," she said. 

Yaftali watches for updates in the media and has been connecting with settlement organizations in the community to both find out and share the latest information.

She said while she is grateful to hear that Canada is committed to resettle 20,000 people, she is hoping for more clarity on the timeline, who will be included and where they will arrive. 

"I just know the number, I don't know the details," she said. 

A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in an email Tuesday the special humanitarian program will include those who come to Canada through family reunification programs and a mix of government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees 

"We are working closely with the provinces and territories, and settlement service providers across Canada," said the statement. "Refugees are matched with communities where settlement supports are already in place, with consideration given to whether they have family members in Canada, as well as the availability of schools, housing and language training."

In Manitoba, Yaftali said community members have already started talking about how they can help. 

She said she would also like to see the government make it easier and faster to privately sponsor people. 

With files from The Associated Press, The Canadian Press, Peter Zimonjic and Meaghan Ketcheson