Canadians stranded outside Kabul airport forced to stand knee-deep in 'sewage water' waiting to be airlifted

Canadian citizens in Kabul say they have been standing knee-deep in what they describe as "sewage water" outside the airport, waving clearance letters for evacuation flights and shouting for help, but say they're being ignored by Canadian military personnel. 

Say they can't get into hotel Global Affairs Canada designated as meeting place

Canadians face dangerous obstacles while en route to Kabul airport

9 months ago
Duration 2:50
More Canadians are sharing their experiences as they try to return home from Afghanistan. The government has instructed some to head to a hotel near the airport, but as @TalRicci reports, accessing that hotel has been dangerous.

Canadian citizens in Kabul say they have been standing knee-deep in what they describe as "sewage water" outside the airport, waving clearance letters for evacuation flights and shouting for help, but say they're being ignored by Canadian military personnel. 

Thousands of people are now congregating around, and in, the canal near the airport — many of them having tried but failed to reach a meeting place designated by Global Affairs Canada. Men interviewed by CBC News who had been at the canal say it is filled with raw sewage.

Thousands of Afghans and foreign nationals are still desperately trying to flee the country amid the Taliban takeover and a looming Tuesday deadline when the last U.S. forces are set to withdraw. 

However, Canada's deadline might be even shorter. On Wednesday, an anonymous source told CBC News that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are winding down their evacuations, meaning Canadians could have just 24 to 48 hours to get planes in and out of Kabul.

Some Canadian nationals in Afghanistan say they believe they have been "abandoned." 

One man, who wished to remain anonymous due to fear of repercussions from the Taliban, said he's in hiding in Kabul with his wife and five children. The man has lived in Toronto for 13 years and had returned to Kabul to visit family.

He previously worked in Afghanistan for the Canadian government.

Can't get into meeting place

The man said he has a letter from Global Affairs Canada confirming he and his family are Canadian citizens and that they should be granted safe passage to the airport.

An accompanying email outlined instructions to reach the meeting place for those awaiting flights to Canada, which included passing through two checkpoints — one managed by the Taliban and another by the United Kingdom.

However, the man said he has not been able to get past the U.K. checkpoint. Visibly sunburnt, he said he waited for eight hours in the sun with his family Wednesday — dousing his children's heads with water and trying to stave off dehydration.

"It was chaos," he told CBC News.

"There were people beating [people], there was no crowd management."

The man said he has watched as other country's citizens are being safely escorted into the airport.

He is worried for his family's safety after hearing stories from friends of the Taliban targeting those who had worked for foreign governments.

"My biggest fear is for my kids, I want to bring them safely back home," he said.

'They are not taking our visas'

Videos provided to CBC News by the man, taken by his friend, show dozens of men standing in dirty, knee-deep water that the man describes as "sewage water," near the airport. Hundreds more can be seen in the video congregating on the canal's bank. They are shouting at a group of armed forces, showing their approval letters for flights, but being ignored.

The man taking the video says he had just attempted to enter the hotel designated by Global Affairs Canada but there was nobody there. He says he has been waiting in the canal for three hours.

"The Canadian forces, they are not taking our visas and they are not talking to us," the man behind the video says.

Afghans gather along a road in Kabul as they wait to board a U.S. military aircraft to leave the country, on Friday. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

"Since 7 a.m … we were here with our families, lying down under the sun, with children and old women and men."

CAF spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said getting eligible Canadian citizens and Afghan nationals into the airport is the "single biggest limiting factor" in the evacuation process. 

CAF teams have a "master list of vetted and vulnerable individuals" they are working to load onto flights, he said.

In reference to the videos showing armed forces "ignoring" evacuees, he said: "Those assigned to conduct security can only conduct security while on duty — they are not able to engage.

"At the same time, there are other Canadian Armed Forces members continuing to engage people, identify them and bring them through the gates for onward processing," he said.

"We know the situation is desperate, and we're committed and invested in this effort to help as many eligible people as we can until we can no longer do so."

CBC News asked Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) whether it was aware of the situation at the hotel and if another location was being considered for evacuees, but the ministry did not specifically respond to the question, instead echoing a similar statement to the CAF's:

"We will continue to get as many people out as we can, until the situation at the airport prevents us from operating safely," the ministry said.

Canadian citizen Mohammed, who did not want his last name used, said he has lived in Toronto for 11 years and had travelled to Kabul to escort his daughter-in-law back to Canada. (Submitted by Mohammed)

'The Taliban hates us'

Another Canadian citizen, named Mohammed, who did not want his last name used, says he was beaten in a "human stampede" while waiting for Canadian officials. The elderly man now has lacerations on his leg and bruising across his arm.

He said he has lived in Toronto for 11 years and had travelled to Kabul to escort his daughter-in-law back to Canada, as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated.

He said he had also received a letter from Global Affairs telling him to meet at a hotel. He said he followed the instructions, which included passing through the checkpoints and then asking for the Canadians who, the letter said, are "ready to receive you."

A Canadian military flight that left Kabul on Sunday. (Submitted by Mohammad Popal)

On Tuesday, he said, he waited seven hours at the British checkpoint "almost fainting" due to the heat and was not granted access. He then went to the canal, which he says was filled with "sewage from the airport."

He is also worried for his safety, having worked for the Canadian government in the past. "This is just the beginning. It's a very bleak future," he said. 

"It's obvious that the Taliban hates us," because, he said, people who have worked for the Taliban's enemies, and who are now joining those enemies' countries, could be used against the new regime. 

"So you can imagine how they are looking at us."

Another Canadian citizen awaiting evacuation, who also wishes to remain anonymous, said he feels "very unsafe."

He said he was on an "execution list of the Taliban" due to his work for a foreign diplomat and that his family had been targeted for their work for international organizations and in educating women.

"We have been threatened many times, either through a phone call or a text message or even a written warning, which has been sent by [the Taliban] or other terrorist groups asking us to stop working or supporting internationals," he said.

"[They] clearly stated foreigners are non-Muslims and to stop helping or supporting them. Otherwise, [they say] it is obligatory for us to execute you."

The man says he has been emailing Global Affairs Canada "on a daily basis" since the fall of Kabul and had not heard from them since he was asked to provide his passport number.

He said the situation in the provinces is much worse because they don't have the media attention that Kabul does.

He is urging the Canadian government to airlift people as quickly as possible, saying delays "could cost the lives of [many] people here in Afghanistan."

"When they needed it, when they were in Afghanistan and when they needed support, to have enough medicine to run their mission, to run their operations, we provided them that support," he said.

"They should and they must support us and they must pay it back."


Ashleigh Stewart is an investigative journalist from New Zealand now living in Toronto, via stints in Dubai, Tokyo and Jakarta. She's particularly interested in stories about mental health, inequality and underrepresented communities. Outside of work, you'll find her on a ski field or a mountain trail. Follow her on Twitter @ash_stewart_ or email her on

With files from Talia Ricci