Pressure grows on Canada to do more to support people in Afghanistan as Taliban tightens its grip

Canadians with loved ones in Afghanistan are demanding that the federal government take immediate steps to support the people there as the Taliban tightens its takeover of the country.

Canadians with loved ones in Afghanistan say they are worried, want Canada to do more

Women gathered at a protest in Mississauga's Celebration Square on Sunday night to draw attention to the plight of Afghanistan. Organizers said the protest was a stand against terrorism. Canadians with loved ones in Afghanistan want the federal government to step up. (CBC)

Canadians with loved ones in Afghanistan are demanding that the federal government take immediate steps to support the people there as the Taliban tightens its grip on the country.

The demand comes after thousands of people desperately tried to flee Afghanistan on Monday following the Taliban's entry into the capital, Kabul, over the weekend. Some people chased a U.S. Air Force plane down the tarmac, while others tried to force their way onto planes at the Kabul airport. Seven people are reported to have been killed as they attempted to get into departing aircraft during take-off.

Khalidha Nasiri, executive director of the Afghan Youth Engagement and Development Initiative (AYEDI), told CBC News in Toronto on Monday that the images coming out of Afghanistan in the last day are heartbreaking.

"I feel the desperation that people face," Nasiri said. "People are worried about their future and that's why they want to escape."

AYEDI is a non-partisan, grassroots organization led by Afghan youth that aims to instill civic engagement and social development in first- and second-generation Afghan-Canadian youth. 

When the Taliban ruled much of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, they vowed to follow a strict interpretation of Sharia law, forcing men to grow beards, women to wear burqas and prohibiting girls from attending school. Those who disobeyed or criticized the regime were violently suppressed or even killed.

Nasiri said she and other Afghan-Canadians are planning a campaign that will call on the Canadian government to expand its Afghan resettlement program, provide immediate humanitarian aid, engage in diplomacy through international forums and advocate for the rights of girls, women, ethnic and religious minorities.

The federal government has pledged to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Afghans threatened by the Taliban and forced to flee Afghanistan.

Nasiri noted that the Taliban takeover is a military operation and not the result of a democratic process. People in Afghanistan do not want to live in a country where their human rights will not be respected and their future is bleak, she added.

"My heart goes out to them. And it was really difficult to watch as an Afghan here," she said.

Nasiri has many relatives still in Afghanistan, including aunts, uncles and cousins, and she said one of her first cousins was killed in Kabul on Sunday. He was in his late 30s and had six children.

"We don't have a lot of details and information on what happened. We just know that there was some sort of explosion. My family just had a moment where there was disbelief," she said.

"He didn't have to die. His death was a direct result of decisions made at the international level in the past few months that have now resulted in the country being in pure chaos."

Nasiri added that Canadians can put pressure on the federal government to help people in Afghanistan.

"To Canadians, I just want to say: You have the power to take action. Contact your local member of parliament, the people running [in the federal election] in your riding, and ask them what they are doing for Afghanistan," she said.

Demonstrators held placards at the protest organized by the Afghan Youth Movement of Canada on Sunday night. (CBC)

Firooz Mohammad, a former interpreter for the Canadian Armed Forces stationed in Kandahar province in 2008 and 2009 and who now lives in the Greater Toronto Area, said Canada must do more. In 2018, the Taliban killed his father-in-law, a contractor who helped to secure supplies for Canadian troops.

"Definitely, we are feeling so sad and really kind of worried about our country and our family members back there," Mohammad said on Monday.

"Nobody knows what's going to happen next and it seems horrible and it's a really critical and dangerous situation in Afghanistan right now. It's unpredictable."

Mohammad said he would like the Canadian government to bring family members to safety. The resettlement program should be increased and Canada needs to airlift people still on the ground in Afghanistan. He said many Afghan people helped Canadian troops when they were stationed in Kandahar.

"We have worked hard, shoulder-by-shoulder with them. We have put our families at risk, our lives at risk, by supporting them," he said.

Afghan-Canadians are organizing a campaign to push the Canadian government to expand its Afghan resettlement program, provide immediate humanitarian aid, engage in diplomacy through international forums, and advocate for the rights of girls and women, as well as ethnic and religious minorities. (CBC)

Toronto ready to welcome people fleeing Afghanistan: Tory

Toronto Mayor John Tory, speaking at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic on Monday, acknowledged the dire situation in Afghanistan.

"The government is working hard to help Afghanis who helped Canada and I think this something that most Canadians would heartily agree with and I know that our city will be ready to welcome a number of these individuals and families fleeing Afghanistan as we have welcomed many others in the past, to our immense benefit as a city and a country," Tory said.

"I just really want the Afghan community here to know that we care deeply about what is happening in their country of origin. I've had the good fortune to get to know that community here in our city. I hope that all of us will reach out a hand of support in some way or another to members of that community to let them know we are trying to provide them with a degree of comfort and support as these terrible tragedies occur in their country of origin."

For his part, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said on Monday that Canada plans to send military aircraft back into Afghanistan to airlift people, many interpreters and their families, who worked alongside Canadians during their 2001-2014 mission. But Trudeau said the Kabul airport must be secured.

The U.S. says it is deploying 1,000 more troops to Afghanistan to assist with the evacuation effort.

With files from Dale Manucdoc, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press