PEI

P.E.I. woman struggling to get her Afghan family to Canada

A woman from eastern P.E.I. has made the first step in helping her family, who are members of a religious minority in Afghanistan, to safety in Canada, but she knows there are many struggles ahead.

‘We succeeded by a miracle’

Makis Miri and Thomas Donahoe are still trying to figure out how to get the families to Canada. (Submitted by Makis Miri)

A woman from eastern P.E.I. has made the first step in helping her family, who are members of a religious minority in Afghanistan, to safety in Canada, but she knows there are many struggles ahead.

Makis Miri came to Canada from Afghanistan in 1998, arriving on her ninth birthday. She has watched in fear for relatives as the Taliban took control of the country this fall, but she was determined to help them.

"I try to not think about the past so much and look forward to helping my family and be a good support system for them, like my parents were for us to bring us here," Miri told Island Morning host Laura Chapin.

Sectarian violence had already brought tragedy to the family.

In 2019, while attending the wedding of a good friend, Miri's second cousin was killed by a suicide bomber attack.

They started interrogating them and my uncle, who feared for all their lives.— Makis Miri

"There were a lot of deaths and injuries," she said.

"And I mean, you're attending a wedding. You don't think anything like that's going to happen. You're going for a joyous occasion."

A better life for the children

It was a shock for Miri, and she said she can only imagine what her cousin's widow has gone through, left behind with three children, aged five to 10 at the time.

"All she wants to do is right now focus on her children and give them a better life and just have a peaceful place where she can raise them," said Miri.

We succeeded by a miracle.— Makis Miri

That desire became that much more difficult when the Taliban took over the country. 

As Shia Muslims, Miri's family are targets in an Afghanistan led by the extremist Sunni Taliban. Just last month, a suicide bomber killed 40 at a Shia mosque in Kandahar. The Taliban promised to increase security around Shia mosques.

Her cousin's widow and children and another related family — her uncle and his wife, two daughters, son-in-law, and step mother — began looking for a way out. They travelled to the Tajikistan border, hoping to find a way to cross. They stayed for several weeks, but their position grew increasingly uncomfortable.

"The Taliban presence was really big there, so they started interrogating them and my uncle, who feared for all their lives … he took them back, drove 10 hours and said, 'We're going to just lock ourselves at home and stay there until we can find another solution.'"

They were able to obtain visas to travel to Pakistan in early October, but before they could travel to the land border the Pakistan government closed it down.

Searching for a flight

Meanwhile Miri and her husband, Thomas Donahoe, were doing what they could to help from P.E.I.

They were working with every government and non-government organization they could think of, trying to get them on a flight to somewhere outside of the country. On two days notice they received a call that the families had seats on a flight for Oct. 14.

Afghans who are in all different parts of the world and they probably can't go back.— Makis Miri

"That Thursday came and it was the longest day of our lives, because we had very minimal correspondence with my family," said Miri.

"We couldn't sleep. We just had to just see what happens. And when we didn't get a word from them, we saw an article saying how the flights have stopped."

Miri's heart sank. She did not know if they had gotten out of the country or not. After an agonizing wait, she received a call from Pakistan.

"We succeeded by a miracle," she said.

Money worries are for later

But the journey is not over for Miri's family yet.

They remain in Pakistan as refugees, and Miri and Donahoe are trying to figure out the best and quickest way to get them to Canada.

"Ultimately the goal is to get them here," said Donahoe.

"We got them out of the country. I told Makis early on, we'll worry about the money later."

And it is an expensive proposition. The flights out of Afghanistan have already cost them $18,500. Sponsoring 10 people privately as refugees would likely cost another $75,000. The family is doing what it can to raise the money, and is thankful for the support of the local community.

For Miri, the whole episode is a reminder that she is unlikely to ever see her childhood home again. She and her husband have often talked about travelling there, but there has never been a time when it felt safe, and she feels more and more that it never will.

"That's the honest truth for a lot of Afghans now, Afghans who are in all different parts of the world and they probably can't go back, you know, to something they first called home."

With files from Laura Chapin

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