Canadian charity helps Afghan refugees discover secure passage to Saskatoon

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Over the next three weeks, 200 refugees connected to the same Afghanistan community will join 26 who have arrived in Saskatoon.

Author of the article:

Thia James

Publishing date:

Sep 20, 202120 minutes ago4 minute read Join the conversation Passengers stand in a queue to board on a Pakistan International Airlines plane, which is the first international commercial flight to land since the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan on August 15, at the airport in Kabul on September 13, 2021. Passengers stand in a queue to board on a Pakistan International Airlines plane, which is the first international commercial flight to land since the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan on August 15, at the airport in Kabul on September 13, 2021. Photo by KARIM SAHIB /AFP via Getty Images

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Everything was left in its place in Farkhonda Tahery’s home when she and her husband left it for a final time, as if they had gone out to a party.

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The couple didn’t want anyone to figure out they weren’t planning to return and were going to leave Afghanistan, so everything appeared as if they were coming back. The fridge still had food inside and their documents were left behind, not wanting to risk being caught with them by the Taliban on the way to the airport.

The couple left Afghanistan on Aug. 30, first landing in Mexico, then travelling to Vancouver before arriving in Saskatoon on Sept. 14. They are part of a group of 26 Afghans who were among the first to arrive in Saskatoon since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August as the U.S. military wound down operations and withdrew after 20 years.

They had seen two alarming changes already. The Taliban banned women from working outside of their homes and many international organizations closed their doors in Afghanistan. Tahery had been working for an international organization that limited its activities in Afghanistan, but couldn’t continue to work because of the ban.

“It was a red light for us that we could not continue there. That was the first thing, but the least of our concerns because we felt insecure inside Afghanistan for so many reasons,” Tahery told the StarPhoenix on Sunday in a call via a social media app. She granted permission to use her name, but the exact location of their home in Afghanistan has been withheld because of concerns for the safety of those left behind.

“We had more concern than others because of our background.”

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Tahery described the organization that she worked for as one of the first groups targeted by the Taliban. Her husband, who developed mobile applications, was working for a company that was a contractor for RS — Resolute Support, a NATO mission. Tahery had also previously worked as a freelance journalist, writing articles that were the opposite of Taliban ideology, and advocated for women’s rights.

One of the couple’s main concerns was leaving family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and everyone they knew behind in Afghanistan. They were assisted by the Prince’s Trust, a London-based international charity.

Within the next three weeks, about 200 Afghan nationals who found safe passage to Pakistan with the help of the Prince’s Trust will come to Saskatchewan.

They will include female students ranging in age from 10 years old to their late teens, female singers and martial artists, their families and girls’ education activists, chair of the Prince’s Trust Canada Chair F. Mark M. Fell told the StarPhoenix on Saturday.

“They are a highly inspiring community, and now they have an opportunity to thrive in Canada, and I really think this is a wonderful win for Canada and I honestly believe a wonderful win for Saskatoon,” Fell said.

A founder of an educational institution in a community in Afghanistan contacted the Prince’s Trust as community members looked to leave. Coordination of an evacuation involved a Harvard University student, a Stanford University student, a team on the ground not directly associated with the charity and charity staff in London, Fell explained.

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He said they first considered the Kabul Airport, which was a challenge to even try to enter, then the airport in Mazar-I-Sharif, but they couldn’t get the Taliban’s approval to board a flight, let alone depart.

They considered trying to leave using the border with Uzbekistan, but the border was closed.

The Prince’s Trust obtained Pakistan visas for the refugees on the condition that the community leaves within 30 days of entry, Fell said. They had proof of that because the charity also had Canadian visas for them.

The charity is not directly involved in their settlement, but the federal department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is coordinating supports for Afghan nationals coming to Saskatoon.

In mid-August, the federal government announced Canada’s plans to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees. It announced programs to aid Afghan nationals who helped the Canadian government and the individuals’ families, and to help people who are vulnerable, such as women, persecuted religious minorities and people who are LGBTI.

For Tahery and her husband, who are in quarantine until Sept. 28, things have so far been good. The people working with them in Saskatoon have been supportive, she said. They picked them up at the airport, provided translators if needed and have been providing a place to stay and information for planning a life in the city.

Tahery and her husband are looking forward to buying a house, employment and working toward a Master’s Degree, hers in either sociology or data science. She has a bachelor’s degree in social work and her husband has a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

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Making connections in Saskatoon will be important to feeling like this is home too, she explained.

“The simplest thing would be when we’re invited to a party, maybe, that would start feeling like home … being surrounded with friends and people who care about us,” she said.

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  1. Saskatchewan New Democratic Party candidate Aleana Young speaks to media in Regina on Oct. 24, 2020. The next day, she gave birth to her first child.

    Sask. NDP calls for action to bring more Afghan refugees to province

  2. Muskeg Lake Cree Nation Chief Kelly Wolfe, who is a veteran of the Afghan War, in the Memorial Union Building on the University of Saskatchewan campus in Saskatoon on  Nov. 5, 2018.

    No regrets: Muskeg Lake chief, an Afghan War veteran, wants to impart values he learned in military

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