As the conflict between Israel and Hamas intensifies, the first Canadian Armed Forces evacuation flight airlifting Canadians and their families from Israel has safely touched down in Athens. Approximately 130 passengers were aboard, according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement on Thursday afternoon.
The flight departed from the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Two military CC-150 Airbus Polaris aircrafts were seconded for this operation. Once in Greece—a designated safe third country—the evacuees will then be transported back to Canada by an Air Canada plane and crew.
It was noted that the departures board at the Ben Gurion Airport indicated CFC 4169 landed Thursday afternoon local-time, while a subsequent CFC 4172 flight is poised to head to Athens later on Thursday evening. “As we speak, a second plane has already landed in Tel Aviv and will be bringing people to Athens in a few hours,” affirmed Trudeau.
Who’s On Board?
These flights prioritize Canadian citizens, their spouses, their children, Canadian permanent residents, and dual-nationals.
Prime Minister Trudeau reiterated the government’s commitment to the safety of its citizens, stating, “The safety and security of Canadians at home and abroad is always our top priority. The situation on the ground is volatile, we’re actively helping our citizens and permanent residents come back to Canada.” He continued to encourage Canadians in need of assistance to reach out to relevant government bodies including the embassy in Tel Aviv, the consular office in Ramallah, or the Global Affairs Canada headquarters in Ottawa.
Planning and Execution
On Wednesday, it was highlighted that the first assisted departures would commence between Thursday and Friday, with an estimated three flights operating daily. Each flight would cater to up to 150 passengers.
Apart from Canadian nationals, individuals with proper documentation, stranded tourists, and the most vulnerable are also being prioritized.
For those without the necessary travel documents, immigration officials are collaborating with embassy staff to confirm identities.
However, Canadians should be aware that while the assisted departure from Israel to Athens won’t incur any costs, any further travel and accommodation will have to be covered by the individuals, as per government guidelines.
Calls for Assistance
The decision to organize these evacuation flights came in the wake of numerous calls from stranded Canadian citizens. With widespread airline cancellations, many found themselves without commercial flight options.
Of the 4,000 Canadians registered in Israel, federal officials have been in touch with about 1,000 individuals seeking assistance. An estimated 70% of these were looking for help to depart amidst the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre remarked on Wednesday that the duration of these shuttle services would be determined by demand, but there is a time limit.
Interestingly, while other major allies such as the U.S. have not yet started assisted departures, Canada has shown willingness to accommodate citizens from allied nations who don’t have such provisions.
When questioned about the time taken to organize these flights, Eyre mentioned that troops began planning support options the moment the conflict ignited. However, several considerations like security, resources, and clearances had to be sorted out first.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly also mentioned she’s exploring more options for those unable to reach Tel Aviv to board an evacuation flight.
Details regarding further evacuation plans and the ongoing situation in Israel remain to be seen. More information is expected in the coming days.