Another plane load of women from Afghanistan now safe after second Canadian-Israeli rescue

bBmiyan women cyclists
Some members of Afghanistan's Bamiyan female cycling team, seen in a video from 2019. (Our Stories)

Three weeks after he helped arrange the rescue of a group of Afghan women cyclists escaping from the Taliban, Canadian-Israeli businessman Sylvan Adams has done it again.

“Our group of 123 souls landed yesterday in Albania,” Adams told The CJN on Sunday, from France. “Our second group includes 57 women cyclists, members of a robotics team, the family of the Afghan Ambassador to the United Nations.”

Adams confirmed that this second, privately arranged rescue was carried out with the logistics teams from IsraAid, an Israeli relief agency.

Frustrated with Canadian government

Adams had hoped this second, larger group of women cyclists and other evacuees would be taking the same escape route as his first did.

That group of 43 crossed the border from Afghanistan in early September into neighbouring Tajikistan, after a “perilous” overland journey. They then boarded a plane chartered by Adams and flew to the United Arab Emirates Sept. 6, after Canadian immigration officials provided assurances to the Emiratis they would accept the group as refugees in danger of persecution from the new Taliban regime.

(While The CJN was aware of efforts to extract this second group, we agreed to keep the details confidential until now, so as not to put the operation in jeopardy). The second plane left northern Afghanistan for Tajikistan, then refuelled in Georgia, before landing in Tirana, Albania, rather than in the U.A.E.

It appears negotiations with Canada to smooth the way for this second group to join their countrymen and women in Abu Dhabi, did not succeed. A spokesman for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which helped arrange “assurance” letters for the earlier group, confirmed the second group got out of Afghanistan but without any Canadian government guarantees.

“Not sure there will be a ‘Canadian’ angle this time; I can’t really say more for the moment,” wrote David Cooper, in an email Friday. Cooper is vice-president for government relations with CIJA, in Ottawa.

Adams had wanted all 165 of his travellers to be together in the U.A.E., but said the second group was not permitted to land in the Emirati capital “due to a lack of commitment from Canada, despite [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau’s offer to accept 40,000 Afghan refugees.”

Application processing slow

On Monday, Sept. 27, during an address to the United Nations General Assembly, Canada’s foreign minister, Marc Garneau, announced the country would double the number of refugees it had committed to accept from Afghanistan from 20,000 to 40,000.

Adams feels this second group would certainly qualify under Canada’s special programs for Afghanistan.

“If Canada ‘talks the talk’ about admitting Afghans, Canada should also ‘walk the walk’ and make this a humanely rapid process,” Adams said. “This is disappointing and frustrating.”

The first group has been at a refugee reception centre in the United Arab Emirates for a month, while the paperwork to come to Canada is being processed.

Canada has received 13,400 applications from Afghanistan, and has approved 9,400 claims, as of Sept. 27, according to government figures. Of these, 2,400 refugees from Afghanistan have arrived in Canada, or 25 per cent of the approved claims. The figures do not specify which resettlement program they qualified for.

Special immigration measures

According to a spokesman for Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada, the government has two programs to resettle Afghan refugees.

The first stream applies to those who are Afghan nationals and their families and who worked with Canadian forces and governmental agencies in Afghanistan during Canada’s mission between 2001 and 2014. Several private groups, including former Canadian military veterans and journalists, have brought their fixers and interpreters out in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan on Aug. 31.

The second stream applies to Afghan citizens who are also considered at risk, and have managed to get out of Afghanistan on their own, such as journalists, human rights workers, women, members of the LGBTQ community, and families of interpreters from the first stream.

“Afghans who are eligible for the special immigration measures and who left or plan to leave Afghanistan and arrive in a third country should let the Government of Canada know where they are and keep us updated,” said Jeffrey MacDonald, a communications officer, in a recent email.

He said the Taliban assured Canada and other allies on Aug. 28 that Afghan citizens with travel authorization from other countries will be allowed to leave Afghanistan safely.

Visas for some of the members of this second group of Afghan cyclists have been secured from France and Switzerland through Sylvan Adam’s cycling federation contacts in those countries. Adams thinks the rest of the group will try to apply to come to Canada.