Winnipeg squash star fears death if deported to Pakistan

A squash star who fled to Canada to escape the Taliban in Pakistan is facing deportation and fears for his life.

Man claims Taliban wants to kill him for promoting Western values

Squash star fears deportation to Pakistan

11 years ago
Duration 2:07
Asif Khan Khalil, a 20-year-old squash star who fled to Canada to escape the Taliban in Pakistan, is facing deportation and fears for his life.

A squash star who fled to Canada to escape the Taliban in Pakistan is facing deportation and fears for his life.

Asif Khan Khalil, 20, could be sent back to his native country on Sunday unless his lawyer can get an emergency reprieve.

Khalil, who claimed refugee status in Winnipeg in August 2010, says his success with a Western sport is seen as a violation of Islam by the fundamentalist Taliban, especially in his home city of Peshawar, which borders Afghanistan.

"I can't even show how worried I am right now," says Khalil. "If they send me back to Pakistan, they're going to kill me."

He played at the national and international levels for Pakistan, and has won many titles in his native country.

According to a document written by Khalil to Canadian immigration officials, the Taliban threatened his coach in July 2009 and told him to stop training Khalil.

The Taliban accused them of travelling to different countries to disseminate information about Taliban training centres, Khalil said.

In October 2009, some family members of Khalil's coach — two of his sisters and his father — were killed in a suicide bombing.

Khalil left Pakistan in 2010 and has never been back, but has been in touch with his family through phone calls. The Taliban continue to threaten and beat his family, even as recently as this summer.

Khalil, who currently works full-time at the Assiniboia Downs, doing everything from mopping floors to setting tables in the restaurant, says his dream is to become a world championship squash player for Canada.

However, he has been limited in what he can do and where he can travel to play because his refugee status is in limbo.

Accused of 'spreading poison'

In a sworn affadavit, Khalil's father, Masal, wrote that during a sermon last July at their local mosque, a cleric said Khalil "was spreading poison of Western civilization by playing the Western sport of squash; that [Khalil] is a cancer upon society and a very poisonous influence on the young people in our area."

Masal says the cleric is also a well-known Taliban spokesperson.

Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board rejected Khalil's application in January, saying it didn't find enough evidence to believe his deportation to Pakistan would put him in danger.

Khalil's lawyer, Bashir Khan, says new evidence that wasn't available at the time of his refugee hearing changes the case. That evidence includes the local cleric's recent sermon and another sworn affadavit from Khalil's father recounting visits from Taliban members who threatened to kill Khalil.

Masal wrote that one of those visits turned violent when Taliban members beat him and his wife.

Khan says recent changes to Canada's immigration laws mean this new evidence might not be heard.

"There's new evidence that wasn't available at the time of the hearing, of risk and harm awaiting him in Pakistan," Khan said.

In August, the federal government put limits on pre-removal risk assessments, which are final evaluations carried out to show if there's any risk to someone being deported to his or her native country.

Khan says his client is a victim of these new limits because he's not able to show new evidence that demonstrates threats to Khalil's life if he is sent back to Pakistan.

"All we're asking for is some due process," he said.

"Give him the right to assert his claim and have it heard."


Ryan Hicks is in his final year as a law student at McGill University and is a former Quebec political correspondent for the CBC. In 2018, he won the Amnesty International Media Award for his reporting from Guatemala about the root causes of migration from Central America to the United States.