'I'm losing hope': Canadians trapped in Afghanistan speak out after deadly airport explosion
Chance to escape Taliban rule appears to evaporate with Canadian airlift suspended, deadly blasts
As an explosion erupted outside Kabul's airport, the last site of hope for thousands trying to escape Taliban rule, one Canadian's children were playing on a tablet — at home, kilometres away — unaware of the horror outside.
It's been the only semblance of normal life or the five children in hiding with their parents since the new regime's swift takeover of the city and much of Afghanistan.
The father, who previously worked for the Canadian government and asked to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisals from the Taliban, has lived in Toronto for 13 years. He was visiting Kabul to see family, when suddenly it appeared there was no way to get home.
"We've been telling our kids not to go outside," he told CBC News. "We try to keep them busy at home … playing on their iPads and tablets."
A day before the blast, which killed dozens, he'd tried unsuccessfully to reach the Baron Hotel, a site designated by Global Affairs Canada for safety and possible evacuation from Afghanistan.
That hotel was the site of chaos as the explosion struck nearby. The Pentagon said Friday the deadly attack was carried out by one suicide bomber, not two.
'I told him it was a picnic'
It had been a hot, gruelling two-kilometre walk to try to reach the hotel — the main road was too dangerous as it was guarded by the Taliban, the man told CBC News.
To shield one of his youngest from the reality of what they were facing, he and his wife said they'd packed for a day trip.
"My little kid, he's six years old, I told him it was a picnic," the man said.
His son later told him: "I don't like this picnic because we didn't end up in Canada."
Despite several attempts — they couldn't get past a checkpoint en route — his family didn't make it on an evacuation flight before Canadian airlifts were suspended on Thursday.
Now he's one of multiple Canadians stuck inside Afghanistan and fearing the worst after evacuation flights to Canada were suspended and a deadly explosion at the Kabul airport may have erased their only chance to escape Taliban rule.
The Canadian government is now telling its citizens to stay away from the airport until further notice.
'I thought citizens would be evacuated first'
Just how many Canadians — and those who applied to come to Canada — remain stranded is unknown. CBC News spoke with two of them Thursday, including the man with the five children.
Another, a woman living within earshot of the airport, said she's feeling "desperate" since learning she won't be boarding a plane to come home anytime soon.
"I do feel angry," said the woman, a Canadian citizen, who also asked not to be identified.
She had travelled to Afghanistan earlier this year to be married, told CBC News she could hear Thursday's explosion from where she's staying.
"I don't know if you can hear the gunfire, it's still on," she said.
"I never thought this would be happening," she said. "I thought citizens would be evacuated first, but it's not like that."
Countless emails to the Canadian government have gone unanswered, she said. She said she received a warning to stay away from the airport, but no specific instructions on what to do now.
In an email to CBC News, Global Affairs Canada said it's advising all Canadian citizens and permanent residents to shelter in place "until the security situation stabilizes."
The department says it has helped hundreds of citizens and permanent residents leave Afghanistan and that some Canadians who left on allied countries' flights or other means are now in third countries. No further evacuation flights are being planned and the Canadian Embassy in Afghanistan has suspended its operations.
"Our primary focus is to identify … how many are left behind as we co-operate with our allies to provide essential support to Canadian citizens and permanent residents remaining in Afghanistan," said spokesperson John Babcock.
For security reasons, he added, the federal government is not disclosing the number of Canadians on the Registration of Canadians Abroad database.
Meanwhile, her family members in Canada try to keep up her spirits, telling her to hold on.
Still, she said: "I'm losing hope."
Global Affairs Canada says those in need of assistance can contact the Emergency Watch and Response Centre 24/7 at 1-613-996-8885. Limited consular services will continue to be provided to Canadian citizens, it says.
Canadians should also register with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service, it adds:https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/registration
With files from Talia Ricci