Canada urges those left in Afghanistan to stay put and not lose hope

The federal government is urging those left in Afghanistan to stay put while the coalition mission changes and vows to keep helping those trying to flee the country.

Ottawa says it helped to airlift more than 3,700 people, but number of those left behind unknown

Taliban fighters stand guard at a checkpoint in Kabul on Wednesday. (Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi/The Associated Press)

The federal government is urging those left in Afghanistan to stay put while the coalition mission changes, and vows to keep helping those still trying to flee the country.

"We're going to continue to exhaust every option," Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told a news conference this morning.

"Whether it's by getting them out on coalition flights, whether it's by working with other regional partners to establish air bridges beyond the Aug. 31 timeline within which the coalition will withdraw and by, yes, looking at other ways to get them to third countries."

Mendicino said Canada secured 500 seats on an American flight out of Afghanistan Thursday for those eligible to come to Canada. He suggested such flights might not happen again now that the evacuation effort on the ground is wrapping up.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau called on those still trapped in Afghanistan to not "lose hope" and said the government is seized with the task of getting more people out.

 "At the moment, we're asking people to stay put because there is a lot of things that are going on at the moment and we're going to keep in constant contact with them," he said.

"Some people may make the decision that they'll seek to get to a third country. Many of the people on the ground there are best placed to make the decision about what their lowest-risk, safe route is. But we will be ready in all of the countries that they may possibly come to, to receive them at our consulates."

Yesterday, Gen. Wayne Eyre, the acting chief of the defence staff, announced that Canadian evacuation operations had finished ahead of the planned U.S. withdrawal from the country on Tuesday and that no more Canadian-operated flights are planned to take people out of Kabul.

The Taliban, a designated terrorist group in Canada, has asserted control over Afghanistan in recent weeks, nearly 20 years after it was ousted in a U.S.-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks.

The Taliban's sweep to power has spurred many people fearing reprisals to flee the country — including Afghans who worked with Canadian troops.

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Justin Trudeau spoke with reporters in a Syrian restaurant in the riding of Mississauga-Streetsville in Ontario on Friday.

Eyre said Canada has helped to evacuate more than 3,700 people from Kabul. The government acknowledged that a number of people are still stuck there — including Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their families, and those seeking refuge in Canada.

Garneau said it's still not known how many potential migrants to Canada are still stuck in Afghanistan.

Officials briefing reporters Thursday morning said they have received applications representing 8,000 people and that two-thirds of those applications have been processed.

In this image provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, families board a U.S. air force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III on Tuesday during ongoing evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/U.S. Marine Corps/The Associated Press)

But they said they don't know exactly how many people didn't make it out. They said that not all of the people who applied to come to Canada are still in Afghanistan and many might have fled to neighbouring countries.

The government said visas issued to those Afghans eligible to come to Canada will remain valid even if they haven't left the country yet. It also said it's waiving immigration paperwork fees for Afghans outside and inside Canada.

Officials said there are no embassy staffers left in the country and that the final Canadian Armed Forces personnel have also left.

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Garneau said regional partners are speaking to the Taliban regime about returning the Kabul airport to normal operations to clear the way for humanitarian aid and getting more people out.

He also announced that Canadian diplomat David Sproule, a former ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to April 2007, will now serve as a special envoy for Afghanistan.

Singh, O'Toole say government delayed response

The Liberals have faced mounting criticism of their response to the crisis.

On Thursday, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole went on the attack, saying the government started too late.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Trudeau knew about the problems with the evacuation effort but didn't act in a timely way to help.

Today, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau defended his government's actions, saying the speed with which the Taliban took control of Afghanistan came as a surprise to many around the world.

"I think a lot of people on the ground and around the world thought there would be more time," he said.

"We accelerated our processes over the past number of weeks and months. We did everything we could."

WATCH | The political impact of the Afghanistan crisis:

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The At Issue panel discusses how the worsening situation in Afghanistan is playing out on the campaign trail and the political risks for the Liberal incumbent. Plus, the panellists weigh in on what the NDP leader had to say about the possibility of working with the Conservatives.

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