Bittersweet return to Canada for Toronto man who fled Kabul, left family behind

·4 min read
Mohammad Popal is back home in Toronto after escaping Afghanistan onboard a Canadian Armed Forces plane.   (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC - image credit)
Mohammad Popal is back home in Toronto after escaping Afghanistan onboard a Canadian Armed Forces plane. (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC - image credit)

A Toronto man who found himself in the middle of the chaos of Kabul when the Taliban took over is back in Canada after days of pleading with the Canadian government for help.

But for Mohammad Popal, the return is bittersweet as he leaves behind his mother and siblings, who are Afghan nationals..

"They're in crisis and they're in danger of being killed by the Taliban," Popal said.

"I'm not feeling well. I cannot sleep well … It's not jetlag."

CBC News first told Popal's story on Aug. 17. The Canadian citizen, who travelled to Afghanistan to be with his sick mother in early August, was airlifted out of Kabul on Friday. He was just one of thousands of people who've been trying to get out since Aug. 15 — the day the Taliban captured the capital. Popal slept between the runway and taxiway at the Kabul airport for a night hoping to catch a flight.

Members of the Taliban had already visited his family home looking for his brothers, who worked for the international community, according to Popal. He says he's very worried they'll show up on his family's doorstep again.

He says he was airlifted by a Canadian military plane after Global Affairs Canada gave him clearance to go to the airport.

Submitted by Mohammad Popal
Submitted by Mohammad Popal

"I tried to get to the airport four times and I was not able to but last Friday, I was able to go to the airport and after 12 or 14 hours I was able to go to the holding zone and Canadian soldiers were there," Popal explained.

Popal says he initially felt "abandoned" by Global Affairs after emailing and calling the department's emergency line several times without a response, and then being told by an emergency line operator that they were limited in the assistance they could provide.

G7 holds emergency meeting on crisis

Thousands of Afghans and foreign nationals are desperately trying to flee the country amid the Taliban takeover and a looming Aug. 31 deadline when U.S. forces are set to withdraw.

U.S. President Joe Biden says he's sticking to the deadline, despite some allies urging him to extend it.

"The sooner we finish the better," Biden said in a Tuesday afternoon speech from the White House, adding that the U.S. is on track to complete its evacuation mission by the end of the month. However, Biden says he has asked for contingency plans to stay in Afghanistan past Aug. 31 "should that become necessary."

The Taliban say they will not accept an extension, with a spokesperson warning that the day is a "red line."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says G7 leaders at an emergency meeting Tuesday morning agreed on a plan to deal with the Taliban, with their top condition being that the new regime allow people to leave the country after the end of the month.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who took part in the meeting, said Canada is prepared to continue evacuations.

WATCH | How Canadian rescue efforts are floundering in Afghanistan:

The federal government confirmed Monday that Canadian special forces are operating outside the security cordon of the airport in Afghanistan's capital, working to get Canadians and eligible Afghans onto planes destined for Canada.

There have been numerous reports of shootings and stampedes among the crowds outside the airport gates, and people are desperately trying to breach the barriers to board aircraft destined for allied countries.

At least 20 people have died in and around the airport during evacuation efforts, a NATO official said on Sunday.

The Canadian government says it plans to resettle about 20,000 vulnerable Afghans, including women and children, as well as Afghan nationals who are now outside the country.

So far, Ottawa has identified about 6,000 people in Afghanistan who are eligible for resettlement, and says it has processed about half of those applications.

The Department of National Defence confirms more than 1,300 people have been flown out of Afghanistan by the Royal Canadian Air Force.

WATCH | Canadian Mohammad Popal says international community 'abandoned' Afghanistan:

Popal getting dozens of calls from Afghans asking for help

Popal says while he's glad to see Canada helping get a growing number of Afghans who worked for the Canadian military and federal agencies out of the country safely, he says it should have happened months ago.

He says he has received dozens of calls from Afghan nationals who want to seek refuge in Canada and hopes Ottawa increases the number of people it plans to resettle.

"It's not [just] about my family," Popal said.

"I'm talking about the entire nation who has been so vulnerable because the international community has really, really abandoned Afghanistan."

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