Afghan women describe journey to Canada

Saskatoon, Sask. Dozens of Afghan women are glad they experienced their first Canadian winter after a harrowing journey from Afghanistan, where they faced retaliation for their work in education.

About 200 Afghan women and their families began arriving in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, as refugees in September after fleeing the Taliban for a better life in Canada. They are all students and alumni of the Maarif School in Kabul, which advocates for the education of women, particularly from the Hazara ethnic minority – two factors that made them early targets for the Taliban.

Maryam Masoumi is among those women who now call Saskatoon home.

“When the Taliban took Kabul, it just died and my dreams were gone,” she told CTV National News.

Maarif School is still open today, but now it is for boys only.

Masoumi, who is also a talented singer, also fears that the students will also discover YouTube videos of her singing at school, since the group has banned the music.

“I just feel like they’re going to kill us,” she said.

When the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital in August, they knew they had to get out as quickly as possible.

“It was very horrific news for everyone,” she said. “Everyone was in a hurry and the chaos started.”

A few days after she fled her home, Masoumi was able to obtain a Canadian visa. She drove 12 hours to Mazar-i-Sharif, a city in northern Afghanistan. But she could not find a trip out of the country for two weeks and eventually returned to Kabul.

From there, Masoumi and her group made the four-hour journey to Jalalabad, west of Kabul, and then two and a half hours to the border with Pakistan where they crossed.

“That was a very scary moment,” she said. “I was just crying.”

Once she arrived in the neighboring country, it took another month before she could travel to Canada.

Farkhunda Taheri has also attended Maarifa School and is now based in Saskatchewan. She was one of the first Afghans to arrive in the city in September.

Taheri said she called her parents as the flight was about to take off to tell them she had escaped.

“It was hard, honestly,” he said. “They were happy because they knew we would be safe.”

She has spent time in a Pakistani hostel and often thinks of those still stuck there, dozens of whom would face sexual slavery if deported to Afghanistan.

“It’s too risky to be taken and sold into slavery,” she said.

More than 100 Afghan refugees remain in hostels in potentially dangerous conditions. Several charities have tried to push the Canadian government to speed up the immigration process for these people, but the government has not committed to doing so.

CTV News has learned that Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani women’s rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is giving her name to the cause.

The Canadian government has promised to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees, but there is no timetable for doing so. So far, the government has managed to bring in 6,495 refugees through the three flows, according to government figures.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada received 14,720 applications from Afghans who helped the Canadian military in the Afghanistan war.

Masoumi also worries about other Afghan refugees who remain in precarious situations, but they hope to be part of the solution in the future.

In Afghanistan, [the refugees] “It will have no future,” she said.

“I want to be a good leader and I want to be in Parliament and help the people of Saskatchewan and Saskatoon.”

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