TORONTO / ISLAMABAD — Canada’s immigration minister said today the country has now helped more than 140 Afghans make their way overland to Pakistan, one of the few routes that is open to those who want to leave the country and have special Canadian VISAs.
A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino added that these refugees will be on their way to Canada within “days or weeks.”
The Khyber Pass, a mountain pass on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, is currently a jammed jumble of trucks, people, goods, Pakistani soldiers and now Taliban gunmen.
Until a few weeks ago, it was the Afghan army that controlled their side of the border, but now it’s Taliban fighters giving the orders.
Under the white flag of the Taliban, border guards from both countries stand just steps apart, controlling the mass of trucks going back and forth, as well as the crush of Afghans desperate to leave.
A Taliban fighter said that those who have a VISA can leave or come whenever they want, but most Afghans waiting in line will be turned back as only those with travel documents for another country will make it across.
After hours on the road to make it this far, there is an excruciating wait to get that previous approval to pass from Afghanistan to Pakistan.
Paperwork needs to be exact, and it’s all been complicated by testing for COVID-19.
A family of eight who left Kabul in the middle of the night, hauling luggage with Canadian flags on them, told CTV News that getting through the border was difficult.
“It took a long time,” the father said. “There were loads of people around here.”
They had left Afghanistan exactly a month since Kabul fell.
“We go to Islamabad to get the processing done, and then we’re going to rock and roll,” he said.
According to the minister’s office, most of the refugees travelling overland through Pakistan are Afghans who aided Canada’s military in the 2000s and fear retribution from the Taliban.
Around 3,700 people were evacuated to Canada before the U.S. withdrawal of troops at the end of August. The federal government has said they will resettle 20,000 Afghans who are forced to flee.
Ten members of another family accepted by Canada also made it across the border to Pakistan today, but hit a last minute snag when two of them tested positive for COVID-19 and will spend the next five days in quarantine.
One more roadblock on the road to Canada.
With files from the Canadian Press and CTVNews.ca’s Alexandra Mae Jones