‘Don’t forget Afghanistan,’ says Winnipegger who has waited years for sister to come to Canada

A Winnipeg man who fled Afghanistan more than two decades ago wants to see the federal government do more to help Afghans who are now trying to make it to Canada — including his sister.

Mushtaqu Rahman arrived in Canada in 2004 after leaving Afghanistan in 1997 to escape the Taliban, who ruled the country at that point.

Now that the Taliban have returned to power, Rahman says Canada needs a quicker process for people like his sister who have been trying to make it to Canada for years. 

“I ask for the government of Canada to help us,” he said. “Don’t forget Afghanistan. We need help. So please help us so we can bring family here.”

Much of the world’s focus recently has been on the refugee crisis in Ukraine. Since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24, the United Nations estimates more than 4.1 million Ukrainians have fled their country.

Canada has taken steps to make it easier for Ukrainian refugees to live and work in Canada temporarily, by waiving many of the typical requirements for visa applications.

But Canada has also made a commitment to welcome 40,000 vulnerable Afghans, following the return of Taliban control last year. That includes helping those who assisted the Canadian government, female leaders and human rights defenders.

This week, the federal government said more than 10,000 Afghan refugees had arrived in Canada since August 2021. 

Rahman said he expected more of the 40,000 people to be in Canada by now. 

And he feels the process for his own family members to move to Canada has been slow.

Rahman has been trying to help his sister come to Canada since she left Afghanistan in 2017. She’s currently living in Pakistan with her family.

Her visa was approved in 2021, but he’s still waiting for her to make her way to Canada.

“Everyone wants family [to] be together,” Rahman said. “I work in this country since 2004. I pay my tax on time. I work hard but I can’t bring my family here,” he said.  

“I love Canada. It’s a good country. But without family [it] is not easy.”

Seeba Wahabi is shown here in a photo from last September, when she was in Toronto working to help those who recently fled Afghanistan settle in Canada. (Submitted by Seeba Wahabi)

A timeline from the government indicating how long it will take to meet the promise of welcoming 40,000 Afghans would help let people know Afghanistan has not been forgotten, says Seeba Wahabi.

Her family left Afghanistan in the late 1990s and spent about a decade in Pakistan before arriving in Canada in 2008. She’s worked to help those who have recently fled Afghanistan settle here in Canada.

“I think as a human, we all work well when there’s a deadline,” she said.

“The deadline would show how it is more urgent — it’s more important right now because they’re not safe.”

‘Extraordinary’ challenges: government

In a statement, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said the government of Canada remains committed to resettling at least 40,000 Afghan nationals and is “working to bring as many vulnerable Afghans as possible to safety in Canada as quickly as possible.” 

But there have been obstacles, the spokesperson said in an email.

“The current situation in Afghanistan is complex and the challenges are extraordinary,” the email said.

“We are navigating a constantly evolving situation in which the Government of Canada has no military or diplomatic presence.”

A Canadian military plane takes Canadians and Afghans out of Afghanistan last August. (Submitted by Mohammad Popal)

The government is doing all it can “and using all available avenues to help Afghans inside and outside of Afghanistan,” according to the spokesperson.

That includes “working with partners in the region in the private sector and non-profit organizations,” and sending more staff to embassies, high commissions, and consulates, the spokesperson said.

But Wahabi fears while many were paying close attention to the situation in Afghanistan last summer, that may no longer be the case. 

“That’s what’s heartbreaking,” she said. “I really hope that … we do whatever we can to keep the news alive, at least to just say ‘hey, we still have, you know, humans suffering right now,'” she said. 

Wahabi hopes the government will not only work fast to fulfil its current commitment, but also ease criteria so that more people are eligible to come to Canada.  

“We’re talking about kids, we’re talking about families,” she said. 

Rahman said right now, it feels like the Canadian government has made it easier for Ukrainians fleeing war in that country to come to Canada than those in Afghanistan at risk from the Taliban. 

“Europe, America, United States, here, everywhere the door is open,” he said. “Not for us…. We are human too.”  

But the federal government spokesperson said the processing of refugee cases is not affected by the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel “or any other special immigration measure introduced for Ukrainians.”

“This is a temporary residency pathway to Canada, and not the permanent resettlement pathway reserved for refugees.” 

For now, Rahman continues to wait to hear when his family will arrive in Canada.

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