Saskatchewan

Afghan friends and families reunite in Saskatoon; tears of joy at airport

Tears were running down Masoma Azizi's face on Saturday morning after hugging her friend for the first time in almost a year. The young woman fled her home in Afghanistan in 2021 before crossing the border into Pakistan.

'It was like a dream for me,' says Afghan refugee after landing in Saskatoon

Families and friends were reconnecting in Saskatoon on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, when a group of Afghan refugees arrived at the airport. (Theresa Kliem/CBC)

Tears were running down Masoma Azizi's face on Saturday morning after hugging her friend for the first time in close to a year.

The young woman fled her home in Afghanistan in 2021 before crossing the border into Pakistan.

However, it would take months of waiting in Islamabad before she got the OK to come to Canada.

"Now I can believe that I am here," said Azizi.

"It was like a dream for me."

Like other refugees who have arrived in Saskatchewan, the Afghan woman is connected to the Marefat School in Kabul, known for having progressive values and championing the rights of women and girls.

Before the Taliban took over Afghanistan, approximately 4,000 students attended the school, located in an impoverished neighbourhood that primarily serves Hazara people, some of the most persecuted people in the country.

Both Azizi and Shekiba Ismaili are graduates from the institution in Kabul.

Maryam Masoomi (left) welcomes her friend and former classmate Masoma Azizi at the Saskatoon Airport. Masoomi came to Saskatoon as a refugee last year and currently is on temporary assignment with CBC Saskatchewan. Last October, approximately 250 people connected to the Marefat school flew into Saskatoon. (Genevieve Patterson/Radio Canada)

Leaving family behind 

Ismaili is happy to have made it to Saskatoon with her sister. However, her journey to safety also came with a heavy price to pay.

"We didn't live even one day without our families, our parents [in Afghanistan]," she said.

"But right now we somehow have to do this, and we have to live without them. And that was the only hope that I have is that I should see my family one day."

Leaving her family and friends behind has been one of the worst parts about coming to Canada, said the 24-year-old.

The Afghan refugee said her mother, her brothers and her dad cried when she left.

Shekiba Ismaili is one of the Afghan refugees who arrived in Saskatoon on Sept. 10, 2022. The young woman has a bachelor degree from university in Kabul and now hopes to continue her education in Canada. (Radio Canada)

"We have to leave our family in order to live, in order to achieve our goals," she said.

"If we stay there, we cannot. The same destination that all the girls have in Afghanistan right now, they are staying in their homes and they cannot do anything."

In August of 2021 the Taliban rolled into Kabul and more than twelve months later their government has turned the clock back on all the social, economic and political reforms implemented since the hardline Islamist movement was driven into exile in 2001.

Ismaili is grateful for the chance she got to come to Canada. 

Now the 24-year-old, who received a bachelor degree at a university in Afghanistan, hopes to be able to continue her education so she can later pay back the people who now help her.

The Marefat School in Kabul, Afghanistan earned an international reputation for being a place where democracy, freedom, and education could flourish. The co-ed facility mentored young men and women aged 14-20. But when the Taliban took over the country in August 2021, many of the female teachers and students had to flee for their lives. This documentary tells the story of a music teacher who – with the assistance of a small group of lawyers, journalists and human rights activists around the world – helped bring more than 200 students and their families out of Afghanistan to safety in Saskatoon.

A long journey

It's been almost a year since Ismaili fled Afghanistan.

On October 12, 2021, she and other refugees arrived in Islamabad after making it through the Torkham border crossing into Pakistan.

Then the waiting began.

Around 20 people waited at the Saskatoon Airport on Saturday morning to welcome the group of Afghan refugees in Saskatchewan. (Genevieve Patterson/Radio Canada)

"It is completely a hard situation in Islamabad," said Masoma's brother Mohammad Reza Azizi who also landed in Saskatoon on Saturday.

"Many of our friends, they are part of our group, still remain in Islamabad. They are waiting to come to Canada."

Like his sister, the 26-year-old is also a graduate of the Marefat School in Kabul.

He continued to work at the institution as a video editor for the school's television station, SA TV, 

Smiles and tears of joy were a common sight at the Saskatoon airport when a group of Afghan refugees arrived in the city on Sept. 10, 2022. A representative from Saskatoon Open Door Society said 31 refugees were expected on the flight landing on Saturday morning. (Genevieve Patterson/Radio Canada)

He was able to flee Afghanistan together with his sister, brother, and parents.

However, he is worried about other refugees still waiting in Pakistan.

"They are mostly girls, and the situation in Islamabad, for girls particularly, is like the situation in Kabul," said Reza Azizi.

"Girls and women couldn't go out without hijab and burqa."

The young man said he misses his colleagues and old life in Afghanistan, but he is hopeful about his future in Canada.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Theresa Kliem

Journalist

Theresa Kliem is a journalist with CBC Saskatoon. She is an immigrant to Canada and loves telling stories about people in Saskatchewan. Email theresa.kliem@cbc.ca.

With files from Leisha Grebinski and Murray Brewster

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