Local Afghan-Canadians worry about family abroad, question resettlement program

As thousands of citizens try to flee Afghanistan that has been largely seized by the Taliban, local Afghans are working to help their loved ones.

Many parts of Afghanistan have been seized by the Taliban

Afghan people sit along the tarmac as they wait to leave the Kabul airport Monday, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war. Thousands of people mobbed the airport, trying to flee the country. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

Members of the Afghan community with ties to the Waterloo region are scrambling to help ensure the safety of loved ones in Afghanistan.

"Right now, it's worrisome, but we pray for the best," said Moska Jamali, who has extended family in the Jalalabad region.

Thousands of citizens are desperately trying to flee Afghanistan, which has been largely seized by the Taliban. Crowds gathered on the tarmac of the capital of Kabul's international airport Monday in search of a way out. U.S. officials say seven people died after clinging onto an American military jet that was taking off.

"It's heartbreaking," said Jamali. "It makes me sit at home and count my blessings, but it's one of those things where, me being at home, having a car I can ride, a fridge full of food … it just makes me feel guilty that they can't share the same feelings as I can," added Jamali, a member of the Afghan Student Association of Waterloo.

In Canada, the government expanded a special program for Afghan citizens. It announced last week it would accept up to 20,000 vulnerable Afghan nationals to Canada.

However, Jamali said the program is exclusionary, and she's not the only one expressing concern over the government's commitment.

Resettlement program

The resettlement program is for people who fall under two categories:

  • Afghan nationals and their families who have a relationship with the Canadian government.
  • Vulnerable citizens outside Afghanistan, including women leaders, human rights advocates, members of the LGBTQ community, journalists, immediate family members of people in Canada and extended family of previously resettled interpreters.

Jamali said associated requirements are hard to meet for some people.

Moska Jamali, a member of the Afghan Student Association of Waterloo, says she is worried about family in Afghanistan. (Submitted by Moska Jamali)

"Especially considering most Afghan citizens are in a place where they don't have the money or the status," she said. "Canada is trying to help, which is nice and all, but … their help is still so qualification based."

Sheha Akbari, who also represents the association, said it has been challenging to find information online about the special program for vulnerable Afghan citizens. On the government's website, it says more details will be shared about the program once they become available.

"This shows a lack of follow-through and seriousness from the Canadian government," said Akbari, who is demanding full transparency from the government about details of the program, especially regarding the eligibility of people currently in Afghanistan. 

The government said the program is for those who have fled the country or are in the process of fleeing it, but an online statement suggests the special program for vulnerable Afghans is for nationals outside the country.

Immigration Canada did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication