Winnipeg families fear for loved ones' safety as Taliban take over Afghanistan
Omaid Amiri's wife caught a plane out of Kabul just before the city fell, but immigration case remains stuck
Families in Winnipeg fear for the safety of their loved ones in Afghanistan as a Taliban insurgency has captured most of the country in a matter of days.
Omaid Amiri says his wife Samia Amiri lived with her parents in the capital city of Kabul, which the Taliban have surrounded.
"I'm concerned about all the women in Afghanistan because the Taliban ... they have especially rules for women — they cannot go alone outside, they cannot go to school, they cannot go study," said Omaid.
"My wife, she's part of my heart and my family," he said.
Two days ago, Omaid bought Samia a plane ticket to Dushanbe — the capital of Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan to the northeast — but he says her immigration case remains stuck, despite the fact that he has hired a lawyer and has spoken with Canadian immigration officials.
The experience of trying to get his wife safely to Winnipeg to live with him has been "the most stressful in my life," he said.
Omaid and Samia talk every day, from the morning until around 2 p.m. when Samia goes to sleep, and then again from around 9 p.m. until 1 a.m.
"She's same as me, stressful, thinking, crying most of the time," he said.
Omaid immigrated to Canada in 2006 with his family, and works as a tow truck driver to support his wife, whom he married in 2017 but hasn't seen in person since 2019, since COVID-19 prevented international travel.
Two of Samia's brothers worked at a British military base, one as a cook and another as a maintenance worker. Omaid worries this could make his wife's family a target for reprisals by the Taliban.
Although Samia managed to escape just before the invasion of the capital city, Omaid said he doesn't know where her parents are.
Immigration pathway too complex
A Winnipeg man with family in Kandahar, a city southwest of Kabul, said Ottawa's new immigration pathway to bring interpreters and other Afghans who worked with the Canadian military here as refugees needs to be easier to navigate.
The man, whom CBC News has agreed not to name because he fears for his family's safety, said his brother-in-law worked with the Canadian Armed Forces for about three years as an interpreter and driver in Afghanistan.
But once Canada's military involvement in the country ended, the former interpreter destroyed any documents that would link him to that job to keep him and his family safe in case Taliban forces came knocking.
"[The] Taliban knows where to go and where to find the people.... [They] search house by house to find any guys or any person who worked with them, so just to kill them," the man said.
Now, he said his sister's husband finds himself lacking the proof he needs to apply for the program for interpreters.
"When he'd get to the point [where they] need identification or any proof that he has worked with Canadian forces, he just stands hopeless. I mean, he didn't have anything," he said.
The Winnipeg man, who was sponsored by his wife to immigrate to Winnipeg in 2013, said he's worried for his parents and five siblings, including a 16-year-old sister and an 11-year-old brother.
"This time is for their education… They have to have a free mind to focus on their future," he said.
"But when I see my country, there's no future. People are just suffering there."
The man said his two oldest sisters are teachers, which puts them at further risk if they return to work. He's hoping the Canadian government will hear calls from him and others in his situation and speed up the process to resettle Afghan refugees as soon as possible.
"They're panicking now. And they don't have anywhere to go," he said.
"I know we cannot bring the whole country here, but at least if there is a chance, a small chance, that we can help them, why wouldn't we?"
The Canadian government has promised to resettle 20,000 refugees who have already fled Afghanistan.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino held a news conference late Friday announcing the new resettlement plan, less than 24 hours after reports Canada was sending special forces troops to Afghanistan.
So far, Omaid says his wife is still waiting for a call from immigration officials to ask for her interview, medical exam and paperwork to begin the process of immigrating to Canada.
Watching the speed with which the Taliban have taken over the country, Omaid said he feels sorry for people who have built their lives in Afghanistan in the 20 years since NATO forces pushed the Taliban out of power in retaliation for their harbouring of Al Qaeda — which carried out the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon in the United States.
"[There were] lots of improvements there, and especially in Kabul. I went there a few times. I've seen everything.
"I just feel sorry for people who just woke up early morning and saw Taliban in the street."
U.S. President Joe Biden announced on July 8 that American forces would be out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11.
On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as the Taliban pushed farther into Kabul and while Western countries rushed to evacuate their embassies. Canada announced Sunday that it had shut down its embassy.