OTTAWA — Canada has helped 145 Canadian-bound refugees flee Afghanistan overland to Pakistan.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino says all 145 have Canadian visas and are now being processed in Pakistan and will be on their way to Canada within "days or weeks."
Alexander Cohen said most of the refugees are Afghans who helped Canada during its military mission to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014 and who fear retribution now that the Taliban have regained control of the country.
He said their number includes individuals associated with the Malala Foundation, students at the Marefat Girls School, and "fixers" who helped Canadian journalists covering the mission.
The overland evacuees are in addition to the 3,700 Canadians, Afghan refugees, and other nationals who were airlifted by Canada out of Afghanistan before American troops completed a frenzied withdrawal from the country at the end of August.
On Thursday, 43 Canadians were evacuated on a flight organized by the government of Qatar, the first passenger flight to leave Afghanistan since last month. Ten more were evacuated Friday on another flight bound for Qatar.
Cohen said the government began working with allies and neighbouring countries even before evacuation flights were shut down last month to find new routes for Afghan refugees to flee to safety.
"Thus far, the overland journey to Pakistan has been the most effective way to get people out of Afghanistan," he said.
Cohen said officials are working with individuals to ensure they have the necessary documents and with allies, including humanitarian groups, which have been helping organize overland convoys of refugees.
Staff at the Canadian High Commission in Islamabad have been beefed up to help process the refugees and are working with the Pakistani government to ensure border officials are ready for their arrival, he said.
"We’re working with refugees to support them while in Pakistan and facilitate onward travel to Canada, and we’ll add resources where necessary," Cohen said.
"We expect more refugees to leave Afghanistan and come to Canada via Pakistan in the coming days and weeks."
Cohen said 2,200 Afghan refugees have resettled in Canada so far, with another 400 in transit.
The federal government has promised to continue doing whatever it can to get people out of Afghanistan. It has also pledged to accept at least 20,000 refugees who make it to neighbouring countries.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 11, 2021.
The Canadian Press