'We just think Canada can do more': Afghan women in Vancouver want Canadian government to take action
Zahra Hashemi is watching in horror as the chaos unravels in her home city of Kabul.
“I just feel very desperate and disconnected from my daily life here since I have all my family and friends back in Afghanistan,” she told CTV News Vancouver.
There has been a chaotic exodus ever since the Taliban took over the country. Afghan people have been crowding Kabul’s airport, desperate to get on flights to Canada, the U.S., Britain and elsewhere.
“For me, it’s like looking at my family and friends and my people drowning and me just not even feeling like I’m living,” said Hashemi. “I feel myself with them.”
She explained that what people are seeing from the airport is only part of what’s happening in the country.
“Everywhere is closed,” she said. “Banks are closed. At the end of the month, no one will get paid and all the shops and stores are closed … It’s very concerning. Like what my family will eat? I can’t even send them money.”
She and a group of Afghan women in Vancouver have decided to take matters into their own hands and raise their voices. They told CTV News about their fears and worries for family back at home, and they demanded that Canada’s government do more.
“We are trying to send out letters to the MP’s office and also immigration office, minister of defence, to say that we need this to be done as soon as possible,” said Hashemi.
Friba Rezayee is also living in Vancouver and part of this group. In 2004, she competed at the Olympics for Afghanistan in judo, as one of the first women ever to do so. She now runs an organization that offers online education for women and girls as well as judo studios in Afghanistan.
“Right now, all judos are closed because of the Taliban and they cannot even disclose their location because the Taliban will hunt them down,” Rezayee said, adding that their online courses continue, for now.
One of her biggest concerns is that the Taliban will cut off telecommunications, which will limit or remove access to her community there.
“Taliban fighters are patrolling streets, they are patrolling roads, they put checkpoints so many different places where they’re literally stopping women from going outside,” she said.
Rezayee and Hashemi, along with the group they are part of, are hoping the Canadian government makes good on its promise to bring Afghan refugees to Canada.
“The problem is that we don’t know when and how,” said Hashemi, who has been calling officials to try to get answers.
“No one was available to respond. I couldn’t get any answer as to how it’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen.”
Rezayee added the number of refugees being welcomed by Canada needs to be much higher.
“That is a great idea, however, that 20,000-plus number includes the pending cases, the active sponsorship, all sorts of sponsorship,” she said. “If the Canadian government wants to make this happen and as efficient as possible, they have to add a new 20,000 number of people, new applications because given the current situation, these people who are fleeing at the moment, they are at greater risk.”
The Canadian government held a news conference Sunday morning, at which Minister of Transportation Marc Garneau said:
“Our goal is clear. It is to evacuate as many Canadians and vulnerable Afghans as possible for as long as the security situation will allow.”
Canada’s Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino added there have been 12 flights so far, which have brought 1,100 individuals out of the country.
“In the coming days, we’re working tirelessly to build on those numbers,” said Mendicino. “Flights have resumed, our Armed Forces are back on the ground coordinating closely with our coalition partners and boarding passengers as quickly and as safely as possible while performing with great courage.”
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan also added that flight departures and landings are extremely tight.
“We have empowered Canadian Armed Forces personnel on the ground to make decisions around aircraft capacity in the interest of saving lives,” he said. “Canadian flight loads have been at the maximum amount possible within the safety and capability parameters.”
Hashemi is hopeful the government can move things along at a faster pace to get people to safety, because if the U.S. military leaves, she worries things will get worse.
“We just think it’s not (a high) enough number for refugees to come to Canada,” she said. “We just think Canada can do more.”