Afghan-Edmontonians fear for family, especially female relatives, still living in Afghanistan

Edmonton is home to about 2,415 Afghans, according to the 2016 Canadian census. Many still have family back in Afghanistan.

Sleepness nights, constant worry about welfare of siblings, parents and relatives

A woman holds a photograph during a protest to raise awareness about the situation in Afghanistan outside European Union headquarters in Brussels, on Aug. 18, 2021. (Francisco Seco/The Associated Press)

Ever since the Taliban entered the capital city of Afghanistan on Sunday, Arian Hakim's life has come to a standstill.

The Afghan-Edmontonian barely eats or sleeps and spends most of her time glued to her phone, scrolling for news on Afghanistan while anxiously awaiting calls from her mother, brothers and sister who live in Kabul.

She is especially worried for her two brothers, both of whom worked for the previous Afghan government and are being sought. As of Tuesday, Taliban members had been to her parents' home numerous times, looking for the brothers who are currently in hiding.

"My mom was crying and saying that, you know (they) are asking for your brother and I told them, 'My son did not return from the war,'" Hakim said, fighting back her own tears. 

"But how long they can hide, where they can hide, you know? It's a hard situation."

On Sunday, the Taliban took over Kabul solidifying the regime's control of the country. On Monday, it promised a peaceful transition of power, even going so far as to vow to honour women's rights within the guidance of Islamic laws. 

Hakim does not believe it.

"The words we are seeing on the TV, it's a different situation," she said. "I hear from my family, friends and all the people around there. It's completely different." 

From her family, Hakim has heard that things are the same as they were in the 1990s, when women weren't allowed to work, had to be accompanied by a man when travelling and lived in fear of being punished for minor infractions.

Hakim fears for her brother's four daughters, aged 10 through 16.

"(Taliban) can do whatever they want. They can take them, marry them or whatever," she said, struggling to remain composed.

She said her brother and his family were among thousands who went to Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport hoping to get a flight out. With no food or water in blistering hot temperatures, her they waited a whole day and night but were unsuccessful. They witnessed people desperately clinging to an American military jet, falling to their deaths, getting trampled or even shot dead.

When Hakim learned where her brother was, she called him. "I said, 'What are you doing? Go home!'"

Her brother replied that he would rather get shot along with his family at the airport than be taken by the Taliban, leaving his daughters at their mercy. 

Edmonton is home to about 2,415 Afghans, according to the 2016 Canadian census. Many still have family back in Afghanistan.

Mohammad Sana, owner of Afghan Chopan Kebab in north Edmonton, has a sister who is a doctor in Kabul.

Sana said his sister hasn't left her house ever since the Taliban took over.

"She is so nervous for her children. It's very tough," he told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on Tuesday. 

Mohammad Sana is worried for his sister who is a doctor in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Submitted by Mohammad Sana)

Like Hakim, Sana has been having sleepless nights, frequently calling his sister — who often picks up the phone crying — to make sure she is safe. He would like to have her here with him in Canada, but doesn't see a way.

"I tried the best for her to come to Canada, or some place in peace, but what can I do?" he asked.

Getting people out of Afghanistan is complicated — even more so given the ongoing political upheaval, according to Joe McAllister, a former RCMP officer who did three tours in Afghanistan training the local and national police.

"(Western countries) also have to bear in mind security for their people, security for their pilots and the crew, and security for even the armed forces that are in there," he explained on CBC's Edmonton AM on Tuesday.

"It's not just a simple task of going in and saying, 'Hey, we're the military, we can protect everybody.'"Hakim hopes the Canadian government can get involved and help people like her brother out of there. For now she holds out hope that her family is safe.

"This is my hope and my concern about the situation," she said.


Kashmala Fida Mohatarem is a reporter and associate producer with CBC Edmonton.