Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Saskatoon opens arms for 200 Afghan refugees

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

Nearly 200 refugees have arrived in Saskatchewan from Afghanistan since September. The girls in the group, which includes their families, were all students or graduates of Kabul’s Marefat school, which supported women’s education. Since the Taliban’s takeover of the country in August 2021, the school has been open to boys only.

Saskatoon teacher Tanis Folstead says her new students have excelled in Kabul in large part because of the English they learned.

“They are very hardworking and they take their school very seriously, and I can see that other students are inspired by them,” Folstead told CTV News.

“He is very kind, yes I love him,” said Muzgan Samim of his new teacher.

Fearing for their lives under the leadership of the Taliban, many young women and their families had to travel from Afghanistan to Pakistan on their way to Canada. When they finally landed in Saskatoon, Staff Sergeant Patrick Barber of the Saskatoon Police Service made sure he was there to greet them.

“When I was at the airport and the doors opened, I realized that these were the lives 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 whether his service was worth it. Barber says seeing young refugees and their families arriving in September proved to her that it was.

“It was the closure most of us were looking for,” Barber said. “It is important for us as a country that we continue to welcome as many people as possible, because this is what we are completing on what we started almost 20 years ago.”

The Canadian government has promised to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees, although there is no deadline for doing so. According to official numbers, Canada has brought in about 7,000 people from Afghanistan through three separate streams since August 2021. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has also received 14,720 applications from Afghans who helped the Canadian military during Canada’s longest war.

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

“Whatever we have, we give it, we share it with them,” Sadat told CTV News. “It’s like because they don’t have anyone here—brother, sister, parent—we are family members to each other.”

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

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

With so much community support, Afghan women have been empowered, with hope and courage to dream of helping girls return home to school.

“Give them an opportunity to study and stand on their own feet,” newcomer Meena Rezwani told CTV News. “It’s my dream, to work only for girls.”

Rezvani remains optimistic as she experiences her first Canadian winter.

“Minus 40, and to freeze the eyelashes?” he said. “It’s surprising!”

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