For Mohammad Fayaz Alamyar, an Afghan refugee and student at Western University, family is everything. So when he had to leave them behind while he travelled to the U.S. and Canada to help them financially, he said it was one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do.
Alamyar, 19, is the oldest of seven siblings and is originally from Afghanistan, where his father owned a small business.
“We were happy with our lives up until we got to know that we face persecution in our country,” he said.
The Taliban sent “shockwaves around the world” in 2021 when they rolled into the country’s capital, Kabul, and took back control of Afghanistan. Thousands were forced to flee their homes, including the Alamyar family.
“It was the end of 2020 when the Taliban extremists started gaining power in our area and their influence there started rising,” Alamyar recalled. “When they got to know that my father has a good income, they started asking him for money, which they call some kind of taxation, but that amount of money would be used for military purposes and it would be used for killing civilians and people.”
After his father refused to pay the requested funds, Alamyar said his family started receiving threatening messages, adding that his family had no choice but to flee their country.
“We secretively left that place and applied for Turkey visas,” he said. “But when we got there, our worst days started.
Alamyar told Global News his parents are unable to work in Turkey due to their refugee status and local schools haven’t accepted his brothers either for the same reason. His 17-year-old sister, a student activist in Afghanistan and Child’s Peace Prize nominee, was able to attend classes and studies but faces racism and discrimination from her peers “on a daily basis.”
In wanting to help his family, Alamyar sought asylum in Canada and was approved for the Afghan Student Refugee Scholarship offered at Western University.
“Western is committed to supporting students and scholars facing threats in their home countries,” the university wrote in a statement. “As part of our responsibility as a global learning institution, Western offers financial support to students and scholars affected by global crisis to come to Western to pursue their degree or continue their academic studies and research.”
Western acknowledged Alamyar’s personal situation, saying that “we have met with him to offer whatever support we can.”
“I feel blessed that I got the scholarship, and I’m making my parents proud to study at one of the world’s best universities,” he said. “But it’s been quite challenging for me to hear from my family.
“They’re my own blood, and family is the dearest and the most loved people you have in this world. So when I hear about their problems (and) when they tell me what they’re going through, I’m not able to concentrate on my studies here.”
Reflecting on his midterms, Alamyar said it’s been hard to concentrate on his studies while his family lives in the looming sense of uncertainty, having been away from them for over a year now.
“I can’t continue like this; I need to get back into shape, and the only way to do it is to get my family into good condition and help them get rid of the current situation,” he said. “Winter’s coming and they don’t have enough funds or money to buy some winter clothes.”
Alamyar has dedicated himself to learning about Canada’s sponsorship process.
“The Government of Canada is firm in its commitment to resettle at least 40,000 Afghan nationals by the end of 2023, which remains one of the largest programs in the world,” a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) told Global News. “So far, more than 25,400 Afghan refugees now call Canada home,” according to their latest figures.
Over half of this commitment, the IRCC said, focuses on those who “assisted Canada, including 18,000 spaces for the Special Immigration Measures program (SIMs) for Afghan nationals and their families who closely assisted the Government of Canada, as well as 5,000 spaces for the extended family members of Afghan interpreters who came to Canada under earlier programs.”
“The remainder of the spaces under this commitment focuses on resettlement through the humanitarian stream,” the spokesperson continued. This includes both “government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees, including women leaders, human rights defenders, persecuted religious and ethnic minorities, 2SLGBTQI+ people and journalists.”
For the identified humanitarian stream, individuals must be referred to Canada by the United Nations Refugee Agency, another designated referral organization, or privately sponsored.
Through the IRCC, Alamyar said he was able to contact some Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAH) —people and/or organizations that are able to help refugees settle in Canada both physically and financially — in the hopes of reuniting his family in London.
“We are doing everything we can to help Afghans inside and outside of Afghanistan, including working with partners in the region, state entities, international and non-profit organizations to implement our plan,” the IRCC spokesperson concluded.
In learning everything about Canada’s sponsorship process, he was able to find an anonymous local SAH. However, due to the size of his family, the SAH said $50,000 is required to properly support them during their first year in Canada.
Alamyar said that while the sponsor has already raised $10,000, there is still $40,000 left to go.
But with the help of Rob Stainton, a philosophy professor at Western, the two have launched a GoFundMe campaign to help raise the amount needed for the remaining balance.
“The reason I got involved with Fayez and his family was the urgency,” Stainton told Global News. “The fact that his family is running out of money and may soon find themselves homeless as winter is coming on, really moved me to act. Also, just how vulnerable he seemed to me.
“To be as a teenager in a new country all by himself and here feeling that he has to rescue his family, that was very moving to me as well.”
For the past six years, Stainton has been helping to raise sponsorship funds for incoming refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and Congo. But he said he’s never worked on a case in sponsoring eight people at once.
“I’ve never raised anything like $40,000 before,” he said. “Londoners have been so generous and so kind. But at the same time, I can understand that there’s Afghans, and there’s Syrians, and there’s Ukrainians.
“There’s great warmth and kindness out there,” Stainton continued. “But at the same time, I also noticed that it is getting harder because there’s just so many of these cases.”
Alamyar added that, for him, the process of becoming a permanent resident in Canada has been a positive one, hoping to one day have his family share a similar experience.
“For those people who face persecution back home and can’t go there, Canada has really created a safe space to say that you’re not alone (and) you’re safe here,” he said, referring to London as a “helpful and giving community.”
“I’m really feeling blessed, happy and thankful to be here, and I hope that my family also becomes members of this community one day,” Alamyar said. “My sister tells me that if I can help them reunite with me in Canada and have a brighter and safer future, then that will be the biggest achievement I can ever give them.”
Out of the $50,000 needed to support his family, over $17,000 has been raised through the Alamyar family campaign as well as the fundraising efforts provided by the SAH.
The campaign can be found on the GoFundMe website under “Western Refugee Student Needs Help.”