5 Afghan siblings arrive in Toronto more than a year after being stuck in limbo in UAE refugee camp

Faisal Rasel, one of five orphaned siblings who were forced to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover, arrived in Toronto two weeks ago with the help of the Jewish Humanitarian Response.

The Taliban killed the orphaned siblings' father in 2018, several years after their mother died

Tania Rasel, left, Banisader Rasel, centre, and Faisal Rasel, right. The siblings, whose father was killed in 2018, were forced to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. (CBC)

Faisal Rasel remembers the moment his father was killed by the Taliban in 2018 for working with the U.S. government. He knew that from then on, he would have to be the one to look after his four siblings. Their mother had died several years prior. 

But when Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021, Rasel, 17 at the time, worried they would come after his orphaned siblings. 

"It was a bad dream," Rasel said. 

"I was very worried about the future of my siblings because the Taliban wanted to kill [them]."

The five siblings managed to escape Kabul where they were under potential danger and hid in a different province in Afghanistan as they looked for a way to escape the country. He said he didn't think his siblings would be able to survive and flee the country.

After reaching out to his father's friends and organizations across the world, the Jewish Humanitarian Response helped them get on a flight out of Afghanistan within weeks. Rasel didn't know at the time that the five siblings would first land in Abu Dhabi — where they were forced to wait in limbo for more than a year at Humanitarian City, a refugee camp in the United Arab Emirates.

"We had no idea where we would end up," he said.

From left to right: Faisal, Tania, Deyana, Banisader and Alda. (CBC)

After waiting for 13 months, Rasel found out they were accepted to Canada and arrived in Toronto on Nov. 22.

"Now we [can] think of our future ... there are a lot of opportunities for me and for my siblings," he said. "I'm very happy."

Nearly 26,000 Afghan refugees settled in Canada

Rabbi Levi Landa first learned about Rasel's story in October 2021, when the Jewish Humanitarian Response (JHR) was created in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover.

He said he knew immediately that the organization needed to do everything possible to get the siblings safely to another country.

"There was this 18-year-old boy, his mother had passed away, the father had been murdered by the Taliban and he had been left caring for his siblings and that he was desperate for someone to help him escape Afghanistan," Landa told CBC Toronto.

Rabbi Levi Landa said he immediately knew the Jewish Humanitarian Response needed to help Faisal Rasel and his four siblings flee Afghanistan to a safe country when he learned about his story in October 2021. (CBC)

"For a lot of Jewish people who have similar stories in their own history, seeing somebody in a similar situation, it was just like, let's see if there's anything at all that we might be able to do," he said.

Landa said the organization's network of volunteers was able to get the siblings out of Afghanistan and into a refugee camp in the UAE.

As of Dec. 4, Canada has taken in 25,865 of the 40,000 Afghan refugees it has committed to resettle by the end of 2023.

We have five new grandchildren that we're so happy to welcome into our family,- Agnes Meinhard, volunteer committee

Agnes Meinhard led a volunteer committee that helped the siblings after she heard about the Rasel's story.

"During the last three years of their lives they had no love shown towards them and then they came to Canada and there's this outpouring of love and that's exactly what it is. Most of us on the committee are retired, so we have time and most of us are grandparents," Meinhard said.

"We have five new grandchildren that we're so happy to welcome into our family." 

Meinhard, who helped Syrian refugees settle in Canada several years ago through her synagogue, said the committee helped raise $100,000 for the siblings.

She said the committee is supporting the siblings as they transition into life in Canada, helping them get their Social Insurance Number, health cards and taking them for doctor visits.

Focusing on school, helping other refugees

Simina Quorishi, an interpreter who volunteers with JHR, said she became very emotionally attached to the siblings after getting in touch with them in November and learning about their story. 

"Canada is lucky to have them because every time that I talk to them, I get inspired to do something better in my life because they are really motivated, they really want to do great things in their lives," Quorishi said.

Simina Quorishi, an interpreter who volunteers with JHR, says she became very emotionally attached to the siblings after getting in touch with them in November and learning about their story.  (CBC)

Rasel said he is currently looking into studying business while his siblings focus on completing high school.

Now that the five siblings have arrived in Canada, they say they are hoping to help more people that were in their situation to safety and ultimately to a country where they can settle into and pursue their dreams.

"Two thousand people are in the Abu Dhabi camp and they are in a bad situation," Rasel said

"Please help them because they are doctors, they are engineers, they are dentists … they have a lot of experience. USA and Canada can use [that]."


Sara Jabakhanji


Sara Jabakhanji is a general assignment reporter with CBC News in Toronto. You can reach her at

With files from Tyler Cheese