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Many Afghans in Canada are left wondering if Afghanistan has been forgotten. Illustration: Anusha Kav

Afghan Canadian diaspora refuses to forget those in Taliban Afghanistan

The economic collapse has far-reaching consequences that span beyond the borders of Afghanistan and the resources in Canada aren’t enough, Afghan-Canadians say.

By Hafsa Maqsood , in City , on April 25, 2022

Fahima Nazari wants to make sure people in Canada do not forget her home country. 

“Now the whole world is quiet about Afghanistan. They’re… they don’t say anything,” said Nazari, a Surrey mother of five who arrived as a refugee 25 years ago. “Everyone is, all the countries, the whole world is quiet [and] I don’t know why.”

After the U.S. withdrawal  from Afghanistan in August 2021, refugees flooded into other countries around the world. Promises of help were made by various governments, including Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

He pledged to bring 40,000 refugees. But so far, only around 11,000 have arrived.

In the meantime, the world’s media have left the country, pulling journalists out and providing only minimal coverage. Now, as the horrors in Ukraine continue and there is fear about climate change, inflation and other pressing political matters, the silence about Afghanistan is deafening to a steadily growing Afghan diaspora. 

While the world may have moved on, Nazari and others like her have not. 

Nazari arrived in Canada in 1997 as a teenager after a rocket hit her house in Afghanistan. Although she and her husband have slowly and steadily built a life here with their family, many of her aunts, uncles, and in-laws remain in Afghanistan. She says they are either unemployed or continue to work but for free because there is no money. They are left with no other choice but to rely on members of their family that live elsewhere.

“Currently there is no school, no college, university. There are no jobs. The government doesn’t have enough money to give to people when they are working but [for] free. There is no money. So now it’s a really bad situation there. People are selling their young girls like six years, seven years old girls to support the rest of the family.”

The only way her remaining family in Afghanistan can sustain a somewhat normal lifestyle is because one of Nazari’s brothers-in-law supports them from Australia or her husband sends money from here when he can.

The massive economic collapse has left over half a million Afghans like Nazari’s family unemployed, according to the UN.

“Since the Taliban takeover, the economy is shrinking, and millions of Afghans are facing a catastrophic humanitarian crisis,” said Sanjar Sohail, publisher of Hasht-e Sobh Daily, the largest daily newspaper of Afghanistan. Sohail publishes out of Vancouver since the office in Afghanistan was shut down by the Taliban.

The crisis has led to many Afghan-Canadians and new Afghan refugees desperately trying to financially support or sponsor their families back home.

But even that kind of support is difficult. Sohail says there are still problems with trying to send money to those in Afghanistan from Canada because the banking system has collapsed and there’s a cash shortage.

The banks have imposed a limitation on monthly withdrawals. No matter how much money is sent from elsewhere, Afghans can only withdraw $400 per month.

Still, those Afghans fortunate enough to have arrived in Canada do what they can, despite facing their own financial challenges.

Some Afghan-Canadians are stuck trying to balance their own financial challenges with supporting their loved ones back home. Illustration: Sumaya Bernier

Ahmad Tamim Sharifzai and his family managed to fly out of Kabul International Airport in August 2021 in the midst of heavy gunfire by the Taliban and massive crowds of people frantically trying to secure a flight to anywhere.

It took Sharifzai six hours to push his way through a gate that would normally have taken two minutes before finally boarding a military airplane to Kuwait. After spending two nights in Kuwait at a U.S. military base, he flew to Toronto with his wife and three children before finally settling in Vancouver one month later.

Sharifzai left much of his furniture and home appliances in Afghanistan. He asks his family to sell what they can every month and use it to pay for their expenses, especially because, as a newcomer himself, he is struggling financially too.

“It’s very difficult to support them from here because the government is paying very less money to us. It is only affordable for our own family members in Canada, in Vancouver, [which] as you know, it’s a very expensive city,” he said.

Sharifzai says his efforts to aid those back home are impacted by the support he receives from Canada because he is still a recent refugee trying to find his footing.

He and his family receive $2,000 per month from the Canadian government. He says most of it goes towards their monthly living expenses with little left over. He briefly worked as a translator for National Geographic but is now unemployed and worries about how long the government support might last.

He’d like to support himself on his own but says his education documents are not accepted by Canadian institutions — something he thinks the federal government could shift with new policy.

“I have a bachelor’s in politics, in political science. But that document is not acceptable here in Canada. So, if the Government of Canada accepts our education documents, we can make our future by our own self,” he said. “If we stand on our own feet, that will be more helpful.”

The co-founder of a non-profit organization assisting new Afghans in B.C. shares Sharifzai’s concerns.

Hadia Samim is one of the directors at BC4Afghans where they provide access to services, resources, and resettlement opportunities for newcomers trying to get on their feet. 

Samim says that, although there is some governmental support, it is not enough.

“Many refugees have vocalized the challenges that they have [with] simultaneously paying their rent, meeting the needs of their children, and providing financial support to their families who remain in Afghanistan,” she said.

“The obligation to send money home has really created a lot of stress and hardship. This has resulted in urgent need to gain employment.”

She says there are many ways to tackle this including increased financial literacy, connecting newcomers with potential employers, streamlining the process of recognizing foreign credentials, and coordination across public and private sectors instead of placing the burden of refugees solely on non-profits.

“I think that collective impact approach is what we need to see more of in order to be able to tackle this at a provincial or national level. Isolated effort is always challenging and it’s not sustainable.”

But past the efforts of local organizations and Afghan families in Canada, Samim also stresses the importance of bringing Afghanistan back into the forefront of the political agenda as part of the solution, echoing Nazari’s fears of empty promises and horrifying silences. 

“When things are just forgotten, then people think that it’s not an issue and then people stop giving attention, they stop supporting these causes and raising funds,” she said.

“[But] it’s still important. It’s still ongoing.”