Canada said Friday it will take in up to 20,000 Afghan refugees, including women leaders, government workers and others facing threats from the Taliban, as insurgents advanced across the country seizing major cities.
“The situation in Afghanistan is heartbreaking and Canada will not stand idly by,” Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told a news conference.
The refugees will include “particularly vulnerable” Afghans still in the country or who've already fled to neighboring states, which in addition to female leaders and government employees also comprises human rights defenders, persecuted minorities and journalists.
Several planeloads of asylum-seekers have departed with the first one landing Friday in Toronto, Mendicino said.
As the Taliban advances on the capital, officials said Canadian special forces form part of a contingency plan to airlift Canadian Embassy staff from Kabul, but details were not provided because of the sensitive nature of the security operation.
Earlier Friday, many countries including Spain, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands announced the withdrawal of staff from their respective embassies.
Canada has said it is monitoring the situation in Afghanistan closely and working with its allies on the ground.
"Protecting the Canadian Embassy and our staff is our top priority," said Foreign Minister Marc Garneau.
On Twitter, he said that Canada "owes Afghans a debt of gratitude and we will continue our efforts to bring them to safety."