Afghan refugees in Edmonton reflect on year since Taliban takeover of homeland

One year after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, refugees who fled the country to Edmonton reflect on the situation and their lives in the Alberta capital.

Group hoping to raise awareness for education of women and girls in Afghanistan

Karima Delijam and her daughter, Soraya Yasa, came to Edmonton as refugees after fleeing Kabul as the Taliban overtook the city last year. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

In a west Edmonton apartment, Karima Delijam, 32, and her 14-year-old daughter Soraya Yasa talk over tea on a calm summer day.

Despite the relaxing domestic scene, Delijam's daily reality is haunted by their traumatic flight from Afghanistan.

"I have nightmares about my family, my parents, my sister," she said in an interview Thursday.

"The nightmare was about the Taliban searching after them and they're running. They're shouting."

Delijam's extended family members are still in her home country.

It has been a year since the U.S. military pulled its troops out of Afghanistan. The Taliban, a listed terrorist entity under Canadian law, seized power in the aftermath.

The takeover is considered a human rights crisis with women, as well as religious and ethnic minorities, most affected. When the organization was previously in power, it enforced restrictions on women impacting their clothing, public life and education. 

Afghans crowd at the tarmac of the Kabul airport hoping to flee the country in August 2021. (AFP/Getty Images)

Delijam was living in Kabul when she learned the Taliban had overtaken the city. She said was shocked as she watched a panicked scene in the streets outside the office building where she was working.

"Crowds of terrified people. They were running to the houses. They were fleeing to their houses, and the car horns [were] blaring," she said. 

"And I can remember I saw a schoolgirl and her books had fallen out of her hands and she was trampled underfoot."

Delijam, her husband, toddler and teenage daughter fled to Pakistan where they sought humanitarian aid. The family moved to Edmonton as refugees in January of 2022.

"The people around us, the neighbourhoods, we receive support from them and we receive so much love from them," she said. 

Flight to Canada

More than 17,300 Afghans have moved to Canada over the past year. 

In Alberta, around 3,030 Afghans and their family members have arrived in the province as government-assisted refugees and another 1,110 have been privately sponsored, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. 

But the move to Canada hasn't always been smooth as the process differs based on individual situations.

Taiba Atimadi, 20, moved to Edmonton in January of 2020 after fleeing her home country of Afghanistan soon after the Taliban took control of the capital. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Taiba Atimadi, 20,  moved to Edmonton with her family in January. She said she feels some guilt as friends and relatives continue to live under the restrictions of the regime in her home country, some unable to pursue education.

She said she also feels frustrated. She and her family are still awaiting permanent residency (PR), eight months after arriving in the country.

"[I'm] trying to find my way to start [my] education, but they are all rejecting me. You have to wait for your PR, but it's unknown for me how long it will take," Atimadi said. 

"You can start a new life here, but every door that I'm knocking is closed to me right now."

Women's education

In March, the Taliban backtracked on a promise to the international community to reopen schools above the sixth grade.

Both Atimadi and Delijam are part of a group of Afghanistan refugees who are urging humanitarian groups and the Canadian government to assist women and girls in Afghanistan putting themselves at risk by seeking a higher education.

"We are trying to somehow let our community and neighbourhood understand about this situation and help us to support them because they really need our support for preparing even their basic needs like books and stationery," Delijam said.

Delijam said the situation is getting worse in the country but she is trying to hold onto hope for the future of her homeland.

The Taliban ordered girls' secondary schools in Afghanistan to shut down on March 23, just hours after they reopened. (Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP/Getty Images)


Travis McEwan

Video journalist

Travis McEwan is a video journalist who covers stories ranging from human interest and sports to municipal and provincial issues. Originally from Churchill, Man., Travis has spent the last decade working at CBC Edmonton reporting for web, radio and television. Email story ideas to travis.mcewan@cbc.ca.