Winnipeg organization preparing to welcome Afghan refugees as crisis worsens

WINNIPEG — Settlement agencies are preparing to welcome Afghan refugees to Winnipeg as the crisis following the Taliban takeover deepens.

Canada has evacuated roughly 3,700 people out of Kabul, including some who will be starting a new life here. Thousands of others are still waiting to escape the violence and uncertainty gripping Afghanistan.

In an already desperate situation, a suicide bombing Thursday targeted people trying to flee the country.

An affiliate of ISIS in Afghanistan, an enemy of the Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the attack at Kabul’s airport, which killed more than 100 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.

“That’s really worrisome because the Taliban is dangerous but ISIS is more dangerous,” said Ariana Yaftali, co-founder of the Afghan-Canadian Women’s Organization in Winnipeg.

Yaftali has been busy preparing for the arrival of Afghan refugees in Winnipeg, while also trying to help friends escape a country back under Taliban rule.

Afghans worry the takeover could roll back decades of progression on women’s rights, education, and health care.

“It’s sad to see women and children and their families are still there and we don’t know — there’s not a lot of news — what will be the next step,” Yaftali said. “The Taliban continuously assuring that they’re going to protect the right of the people but what we are hearing from friends and family, that’s not the case.”

Thursday’s bombing came just hours after Canada ended its evacuation mission under the threat of attack, ahead of the Aug.31 departure of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

“It serves as the harshest of reminders that the situation on the ground is volatile in the extreme and could turn deadly at any moment,” said Marco Mendicino, Canada’s Immigration Minister.

Mendicino praised Canadian Forces personnel for conducting a dangerous mission. He said Canada remains committed to rescuing people. Permanent residents, Canadian citizens, Afghans who supported the armed forces during their mission in the country, and vulnerable groups who could face persecution by the Taliban are all trying to escape.

“Even though our military has now concluded the evacuation, we are continuing to work tirelessly with our allies and our partners in the region to pursue every option to get the people that we need to get out of Afghanistan,” Mendicino said.

Canada was able to secure 500 seats on an American airlift for people and got them safely out of Kabul.

Canadian government officials said they’ve received applications for 8000 people stranded in Afghanistan.

“People are just living right now in extreme dangerous situations with fear,” Yaftali said.

Yaftali isn’t sure how many Afghan refugees may end up in Winnipeg but said those arriving in Canada will be dealing with culture shock and in some cases, guilt – for getting out of Afghanistan, while others were left stranded. She said the biggest need locally will be finding places for people to live.

Canada has promised to resettle 20,000 Afghans forced to flee due to the threat of danger from the Taliban.

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