Quebec families fear for loved ones' safety in Afghanistan as Taliban takes Kabul

Afghan-Quebecers are pleading for the Canadian government to accelerate its humanitarian efforts.

Afghan-Quebecers say Canada should firm up support for refugees

Fahima Sultani says she has been getting calls overnight from Afghans trying to escape Kabul. (Submitted by Fahima Sultani)

As Taliban insurgents take over Afghanistan's capital, Quebecers have loved ones who are desperate to get out.

Fahima Sultani tried all day from her home on Montreal's South Shore on Sunday to reach her cousin, his wife and their six children trapped in Kabul.

"It was so heartbreaking, I was remembering my childhood," she said. "They're just stuck at home because of the fear. Fear of losing his life, his kids' life, everything. It's so, so painful."

Since the U.S. withdrew its troops, Taliban fighters deposed Afghanistan's government in a little over a week. This has caused chaos at the Kabul airport as crowds try to flee the country.

Videos on social media show thousands of people running onto the tarmac, attempting to board U.S. aircraft as they take off. Several people are seen falling through the air as they gain altitude.

Sultani is one of thousands of Afghan refugees who resettled in Canada after the Taliban was ousted in 2002. Now, she is receiving calls overnight from Afghans trying to leave Kabul.

Once she got ahold of her cousin around 10:30 p.m., she said he told her the fallen city was filled with people running "like a bunch of birds when you open a cage … flying everywhere."

A state of helplessness

Shah-Ismatullah Habibi, a former Afghan refugee based in Sherbrooke, fears Afghanistan will resemble what it was in 2001.

"The women can't go out. The women can't work. It is more difficult for the women," said Habibi, who runs an organization that helps refugees in the Eastern Townships. "You look at this situation, how can they survive in Afghanistan?"

He says sending money is impossible, because the banks are closed.

"They're asking, 'help us, help us,' but I can't do anything," he said.

Shah-Ismatullah Habibi says the Canadian government should be honest with Afghans about their ability to help refugees. (Daniel Mailloux / Radio-Canada)

Habibi is urging the Canadian government to accelerate its humanitarian efforts and for Quebecers to consider sponsoring Afghan refugees.

The federal government announced Friday that it would take in 20,000 Afghan refugees fleeing Taliban forces, but no timeline has been shared.

"Afghans have put their lives at great risk to support Canada in helping Afghans achieve significant democratic, human rights, education, health and security gains over the past 20 years," Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement. "We owe them a debt of gratitude and we will continue our efforts to bring them to safety."

But until Canada firms up its plans, Sultani says she'll remain anxious.

"These people need support," she said. "Why can't [Afghans] have freedom, why can't they live as human beings … I keep getting these questions, and I can't sleep."

With files from Shuyee Lee and Quebec AM