Ottawa

Father of 3 faces agonizing wait for family stuck in Afghanistan

An Ottawa man says being separated from his wife and three young daughters in Afghanistan has been agonizing — and the lack of answers from the federal government dehumanizing. 

Noorullah Hakemi says calls to Canadian officials have gone unreturned

Noorullah Hakemi says he can't get information from federal officials about how his wife and three children — two of which are seen here — will be brought to Canada from Afghanistan, even though they've had approval since mid-August. (Submitted by Noorullah Hakemi)

An Ottawa man says being separated from his wife and three young daughters in Afghanistan has been agonizing — and the lack of answers from the federal government dehumanizing. 

While Noorullah Hakemi's family is eligible to come to Canada — they were approved as permanent residents on Aug.14 — he says their fate remains uncertain.

"I am thinking that my family is stuck forever," said Hakemi, a Canadian permanent resident who formerly served as an advisor to Afghanistan's defence minister and chief of staff.

"I talked with Global Affairs. I told them, 'Give me travel documents, give me some paper, I want to go back.' If I'm supposed to die, it's better to die beside my children, not here."

Hakemi said the chaos on the ground in Afghanistan, the end of Canada's mission there and restrictions the Taliban has put on the number of people who can leave have left his family's future in flux.

The federal government said Friday that visas issued to Afghans eligible to come to Canada will remain valid even if they haven't left the country yet. 

But without Canadian boots on the ground or a clear way out, Hakemi doesn't know how that will happen.

He said he makes 15 to 16 calls each day to agencies like Global Affairs Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), as well as various MPs including federal Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, trying to get more information — but almost no one has been returning his calls.

"I leave like, 100 messages to different numbers," Hakemi said. "No one responds [to] me."

Early Monday morning he passed along a text that said it was from Global Affairs Canada asking for personal information in case 'departure options become available in the future.'

Noorullah Hakemi said his wife and children are currently staying with other family members in the capital, Kabul, but that will soon end. (Submitted by Noorullah Hakemi)

Children don't understand situation 

Hakemi said the emotions stirred up by talking to his family, especially his six-year-old daughter Setayesh, are difficult to describe. 

"My wife [is] crying and my children don't know what's happening," Hakemi said Saturday from his Lees Avenue apartment.

[My daughter's] just telling me, 'Send your airplane.' They're thinking I have my own private airplane."

The situation is further complicated because the family doesn't have a male chaperone, Hakemi said, which restricts their ability to go out in public under Taliban rule.

Hakemi said his former advisory work means he's known by name to the Taliban, and on the first day after entering the capital, Kabul, they came to his house and confiscated his car.

"They searched my house. They were asking [for] me, but my family told them ... 'He is not here. He's in Canada.'"

Hakemi says his eldest daughter keeps asking him to send a private airplane to bring them to Canada. (Nicholas Cleroux/Radio-Canada)

Afghans must assess security situation: IRCC

The IRCC told CBC it's working to support those still in Afghanistan, although the department wouldn't comment on Hakemi's case, citing safety and security concerns. 

"We understand that families are very anxious about the situation in Afghanistan and are concerned for their families," spokesperson Rémi Larivière said. 

The federal government has committed to resettling 20,000 vulnerable Afghans and has launched a special immigration program for Afghan nationals and their families who assisted Canada. 

It's also launched a special humanitarian program focused on resettling Afghan nationals who are outside of Afghanistan and don't have another stable option for protection.

"Until the security situation stabilizes, individuals in Afghanistan must assess their security situation to determine their options and take the necessary steps to protect their own personal security and that of their family," Larivière said.

"The political and security situation on the ground is very fluid. We are urgently working with allies on next steps." 

Hakemi said it's been hard to watch his country fall into the hands of terrorists from thousands of kilometres away, unable to help and unacknowledged by the Canadian government.

"I feel like I don't have any identity here," he said. "No one recognizes me as a human." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joe Tunney reports for CBC News in Ottawa. He can be reached at joe.tunney@cbc.ca

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now