Saskatoon welcomes 200 Afghan refugees

Saskatoon, Sask. A large group of young Afghan women and their families found a warm welcome in snowy Saskatoon.

Since September, about 200 refugees have arrived in Saskatchewan from Afghanistan. The young women in the group were all students or graduates of the Maarif School in Kabul, which advocated for women’s education. Since the Taliban took over the country in August 2021, the school has been open to boys only.

Saskatoon schoolteacher Tanis Volstad says her new students have been excelling, in large part because of the English they learned in Kabul.

“They work very hard and take their school very seriously, and I can see that the other students are inspiring them,” Volstad told CTV News.

“She’s so cute, yes I love her,” Muzgan Samim said of her new teacher.

Fearing for their lives under Taliban rule, many young women and their families underwent a harrowing journey through Afghanistan to Pakistan on their way to Canada. When they finally landed in Saskatoon, Sergeant Patrick Barbar of the Saskatoon Police Service made sure he was there to receive them.

“When I was at the airport and the doors opened, I realized that this is the life we ​​were really changing,” he told CTV News.

In 2010, Barbar spent a year helping to train the Afghan National Police. When the country fell to the Taliban last year, he wondered if his service was worth it. Barbar says the arrival of young refugees and their families in September proved that to him.

“This was the closure most of us were looking for,” Barbar said. “It is important for us as a country to continue to welcome as many people as possible, as we are finishing the work we started nearly 20 years ago.”

The Canadian government has promised to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees, although there is no timetable for doing so. So far, Canada has brought nearly 7,000 people from Afghanistan since August 2021 through three different flows, according to official figures. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada also received 14,720 applications from Afghans who helped the Canadian military during Canada’s longest war.

In Saskatoon, the newcomers are also helping young women and their families adjust to life in Canada, such as Sultan Ali Sadat. Sadat works with the Open Door Society of Saskatoon, a non-profit organization that helps newcomers. He arrived as a refugee from Afghanistan in 1998, when the Taliban were first in power.

“All our surplus we give, share it with them,” Sadat told CTV News. “It’s as if they have no one here – brother, sister, parents – we are family members to each other.”

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark says the city is getting more back than it gave its new residents.

“We all become stronger when we work together to help others,” he told CTV News. “So, it’s a great source of strength for our community.”

Having so much community support has in turn given Afghan women the strength, as well as hope and courage to dream of helping girls back home to go back to school.

“Give them an opportunity, an opportunity to study and stand on their own feet,” newcomer Mina Radwani told CTV News. “This is my dream, just to work for the girls.”

Radwani remains optimistic as she is experiencing her first Canadian winter.

“Minus 40, eyelashes freeze?” She said. “It’s surprising!”

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