An Afghan family, with a baby girl born on the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, finally managed to leave Ukraine on their fifth attempt Wednesday.
The Safi family had hoped to have left Ukraine months ago, but they are still waiting to get approval to fly to Canada under the government of Canada’s special humanitarian immigration program for Afghan refugees.
Since August, Mir Safi, along with his wife, three children, sister-in-law and nephew had been staying in a refugee centre in Perechyn in western Ukraine.
“It makes me very frustrated and disappointed,” 47-year-old Safi told Global News. His brother Ali Safi in Austria translated the interview during a Zoom call.
“I’ve been very tired and exhausted … standing in the cold weather.”
Safi applied for Canada’s special humanitarian immigration program because he worked as a prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Office of Afghanistan.
When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the Safis’ fourth child, Sumyya, was just a day old.
Safi says Ukrainian border guards refused to let his family leave on four occasions since the outbreak of war: twice at the Slovakian border, and twice again at the Polish border.
None of his family had passports with them when they tried to leave, because they had to surrender them to Ukrainian authorities when they arrived in the country.
Most of them only had identification cards.
On their first two attempts to leave for Slovakia, he says Ukrainian border guards said that Safi’s 18-year-old nephew Yaser needed identification.
On the following two attempts, he says the guards said Sumyya needed documentation, but her birth certificate had not yet been issued.
“It’s very frustrating to see that Ukrainians, girls, women and boys, they cross the border. Thousands of them cross the border without being asked to stop,” said Safi.
“But me as an Afghan, they (Ukrainian border guards) stopped me and they say my daughter does not have papers. I should leave her behind. So basically, they stopped the whole family because of that, because of my daughter. And this is truly frustrating.”
The Safis made it into Poland Wednesday and travelled onward to Germany.
Global News reached out to the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine but did not receive a response.
In a statement, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) told Global News: “While we cannot comment on specific cases, a full admissibility assessment must be completed before a final decision on an application can be made. Certain cases are complex, and the screening part of the process can take additional time to ensure rigorous assessment.”
“For privacy reasons and the safety and security of those involved, we are unable to provide specific details on cases, which includes providing numbers regarding potentially vulnerable Afghans who may be in Ukraine.”
On Feb. 18, IRCC said 7,885 Afghan nationals have so far arrived in Canada since the start of the program to resettle at least 40,000 Afghans.
On Thursday, the Safis’ case was raised by NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser said: “We can’t discuss the specifics of any case. I’m happy to look into whatever sensitive cases may come across our desk. There are a number of people who have come from Afghanistan through Ukraine to Canada already.”
Kwan told Fraser she would write to him with specific details on the case.
Global News has also been tracking the story of another Afghan family who had been staying in Kyiv, Ukraine.
The Haqmals are also waiting for Canadian officials to approve their immigration paperwork.
Jawed Ahmad Haqmal and his 11 family members made it to Poland on March 1.
Haqmal says they received no help from the Canadian government.
Like the Safis, the Haqmals have travelled onwards to Germany.
Since the exodus of refugees from Ukraine, there have been numerous reports of Ukrainians being prioritized on trains and at the borders.
Many people of colour allege racist incidents from authorities during their efforts to flee.
On March 1, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba appeared to respond to the allegations by tweeting: “Africans seeking evacuation are our friends and need to have equal opportunities to return to their home countries safely. Ukraine’s government spares no effort to solve the problem.”
Global News spoke with British-Zimbabwean woman Korrine Sky, a medical student who was studying in Dnipro, Ukraine, and made it to Romania on Monday.
Sky says she and her husband waited for 48 hours in a car at the border, before then being told a join a pedestrian lineup.
“It seemed as if there was evident segregation, because in the pedestrian queue there was only people of colour. There was Asians, Arab people and Black people. There were no Ukrainian people in that queue,” said Sky.
“I was lunged at by one of the civilians on our way to the border. A man held a gun up at me and told us that if we don’t leave in five minutes, he will shoot us. Other Black women have reported being shoved, being pushed. Women with children. So it’s been awful.”
Sky says she is aware of around 1,000 foreign students who are stuck in the city of Sumy near the Russian border, unable to even get to a western border because of the security situation.
Foreign students have started online groups, such as Black Foreigners in Ukraine.
Using social media, the groups help students find a safe way to leave Ukraine, providing them with money, accommodation and food in neighbouring countries.