‘Take us out of this hell’: Afghan refugees plead for Canada to protect their families

Afghan people sit along the tarmac as they wait to leave the Kabul airport in Kabul on Aug. 16, 2021. Wakil Kohsar / AFP via Getty Images

Mina fled Afghanistan for Toronto in October 2019.

Seven months pregnant, she feared the Taliban would kill her because she worked as a health care provider, educating women and girls about reproductive rights and female health.

A year after she arrived in Canada, her application for refugee protection was accepted, she said. But 10 months later, she’s still waiting to be reunited with her husband and three children.

And now that the Taliban has declared victory in Afghanistan, she fears the worst could happen to her family.

“This situation is very, very hard. Especially for those of us who are in Canada, whose loved ones and children are in Afghanistan,” Mina said while crying and with a choked voice.

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“We’re just watching with horror and we can’t do anything for them.”

Click to play video: 'Afghans living in B.C. fear for safety of relatives'
Afghans living in B.C. fear for safety of relatives

Global News is using a pseudonym for Mina because of fears the Taliban might target her family.

Despite being declared a “protected person” by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada in October 2020, the process of reuniting with her family has been slow and cumbersome, Mina said.

The documents required, and other steps applicants must go through, meant it took more than six months for Mina to complete the application process, she said. And now that her application is submitted, she has no idea when it will be approved. She worries that the growing demand for people wanting to flee Afghanistan could mean her family’s case gets left behind.

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She’s calling on the government to grant temporary status to her husband and children so they can come to Canada while their permanent residency application is processed. This, she said, will allow her family to live in safety while the government finalizes the necessary paperwork.

Mina wants the government to do the same for other Afghan refugees whose families are in a similar situation.

“Our families need to be evacuated from Kabul immediately,” she said.

Rapidly devolving situation

The speed with which the Taliban took control of Afghanistan surprised many analysts. A recent U.S. intelligence report suggested the Taliban wouldn’t be in a position to capture Kabul until at least midway through the fall, following the final withdrawal of U.S. military forces.

But just a few weeks after the U.S. left Afghanistan for good, domestic security forces and the Afghan army were overrun by the Taliban.

On Aug. 16, roughly a week after a major offensive began, the Taliban declared the war with America and its western allies over, and proclaimed itself the new government of Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada is working closely with its allies to ensure Canadian citizens and diplomatic staff are evacuated from Afghanistan as quickly as possible.

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Trudeau reiterated his commitment to resettle 20,000 Afghan citizens, including interpreters and other personnel who worked with the Canadian Armed Forces during their mission in the country.

Click to play video: 'The Taliban return to power in Afghanistan'
The Taliban return to power in Afghanistan

Trudeau also said Canada does not consider the Taliban the official government of Afghanistan.

“Canada has no plans to recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan. When they were in government 20 years ago, Canada did not recognize them,” said Trudeau, who is currently campaigning for re-election, on Aug. 17.

“(The Taliban) have taken over and replaced a duly elected democratic government by force. … They are a recognized terrorist organization under Canadian law.”

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Global News asked the government what, if anything, it’s going to do to help Mina and other Afghan refugees already living in Canada reunite with their families.

Global News also asked the government if it intends to grant temporary resident status to the immediate family members of protected persons and make them a priority for resettlement.

Alex Cohen, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, said the situation in Afghanistan is “heartbreaking.” He said the government will prioritize immediate family members of Afghans with protected person status in Canada for resettlement. He also said the government is committed to sending more military aircraft to Kabul for civilian evacuations when conditions permit.

“The next phase of this situation will likely be a refugee crisis, as humanitarian needs continue to grow and Afghans flee to neighbouring countries,” Cohen said. “Canada is ready to respond, and we’re leading the world as one of the first countries to announce a humanitarian program for Afghan refugees.”

Afghans desperate to flee

The urgency with which people are attempting to flee Afghanistan has been on display at Kabul’s international airport ever since the Taliban took control of the capital.

Videos posted on various social media accounts show people clinging to the bottom of a U.S. military aircraft as it took off from the airport runway. Several people are seen in the videos falling to their deaths, while others have reportedly been killed by gunfire when attempting to gain access to the airstrip.

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Mohammad, who lives in Toronto and is a former employee of the United Nations and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, has watched these events in terror.

Global News is protecting his identity because of the risks his family still faces.

Click to play video: 'Afghanistan crisis: Desperate locals cling to side of US Air Force plane taking off from Kabul'
Afghanistan crisis: Desperate locals cling to side of US Air Force plane taking off from Kabul

Mohammad’s wife and 10 children, including six daughters between the ages of 15 and 21 years old, are still living in Afghanistan. He was granted refugee status in Canada in 2019 because of the risks he faces from the Taliban.

Despite being deemed eligible for permanent residency in December 2020, he’s still waiting for the government to approve his application. He said he has no idea when the application will be approved and what the status of his wife’s and children’s applications are.

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An article published by Le Devoir in March 2021 revealed the average processing time for permanent residency applications submitted by refugees with dependent children is 39 months.

“It’s scary,” he said. “I’m going crazy, you know?”

Like Mina, Mohammad is calling on the government to grant his family temporary status in Canada while their residency applications are finalized.

He said knowing that the Taliban is in control of Kabul is horrifying because he fears his daughters might be kidnapped and given away as brides to Taliban fighters.

He also said his doctor recently diagnosed him with severe anxiety and depression. He can’t sleep and he’s on medication.

“My elder children are all girls. They are highly at risk,” he said.

“They are really worried. All the time that I call them, they are just crying and they say, ‘Dad, please come and take us out of this hell.’”

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