The Current

Afghans are suffering and dying while Canada plays politics, says aid worker

Sanctions meant to isolate the Taliban are instead leaving ordinary Afghans to suffer in a terrible humanitarian crisis, says Samira Sayed Rahman of the International Rescue Committee.

Sanctions aimed at Taliban are punishing Afghan people: Samira Sayed Rahman

An Afghan woman in Kabul waits to receive a food ration distributed by a humanitarian aid group in May. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

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Aid worker Samira Sayed Rahman was in eastern Afghanistan recently, where she met a woman struggling to survive in a one-room mud structure that she shared with her six children.

"If she is able to get food on the table, it is because she's picking from the garbage. And if she can get enough of the hair and dirt off, she brings it home for her six children," said Sayed Rahman, a Canadian who has been in Afghanistan for seven years, and works with the NGO International Rescue Committee (IRC). 

"Otherwise [they] go days without eating," she told The Current's guest host Michelle Shephard.

The IRC was in the area to provide economic training to locals; this particular woman learned how to make pickles, as a source of income for her family.

Sayed Rahman said her story of deprivation is the story of millions of Afghans, who are having to resort to "horrific means to survive" since the Taliban's resurgence in the country sparked a humanitarian crisis. And she added that it's fuelled by an economic crisis that "is a direct result of the decisions of the international community."

Afghans are resorting to "skipping meals, taking on debt, pulling children out of school — and … extreme measures, such as selling daughters into marriage or selling organs," she said.

WATCH | Afghanistan gripped by humanitarian crisis

One year after Taliban takeover, Afghanistan gripped by humanitarian crisis

2 months ago
Duration 3:00
Afghanistan is marking a year under Taliban rule. While the repressive regime is celebrating the anniversary, the country is now facing a humanitarian crisis with millions of ordinary Afghans struggling to find food, while women and girls have been stripped of their basic rights.

The humanitarian crisis is being fuelled by economic sanctions levied by the international community after the U.S. and its allies pulled out of Afghanistan last summer, and Kabul quickly fell into the hands of the Taliban. Funding and aid to the country was widely suspended in line with international policies around interacting with the Taliban, designated by many countries as a terrorist organization.

The UN estimates that of Afghanistan's population of 38 million, roughly 25 million people are living in poverty, in need of humanitarian assistance. That number has risen from 14 million in July 2021, just before the Taliban's takeover. 

Some countries have created exceptions to their laws, to allow the delivery of aid to ordinary Afghans — but Canada's strict policies remain in place. Last week, Canada-based aid agency World Vision cited the ban when it cancelled a large shipment of food to Afghanistan, which the charity said could have fed around 1,800 children

"Aid organizations in Afghanistan that are heavily dependent on Canadian foreign aid are now struggling," said Sayed Rahman, adding that policies intended to "isolate the Taliban" have instead "punished the Afghan people."

"We are punishing 38 million people just because a few hundred are in power."

WATCH | Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland discusses Afghan refugees

Deputy prime minister answers questions about Afghanistan

2 months ago
Duration 2:23
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canada's priority is to focus on the women and children of Afghanistan 'who have suffered real setbacks.'

Taliban 'remains a terrorist group': GAC

In an emailed statement to The Current, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada (GAC) said that "Canada remains committed to facilitating life-saving assistance to vulnerable Afghans."

"In 2022, Canada has allocated $143 million in humanitarian assistance to support vulnerable populations in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries," the statement read.

But the statement added that "although the Taliban has taken over as the de facto national authority of Afghanistan, it remains a terrorist group and is a listed terrorist entity under the Criminal Code."

Departments across the federal government are "working to identify a solution that upholds Canada's national security interests while facilitating the effective delivery of assistance to the Afghan people in this unprecedented situation," it said.

The Taliban's early assurances that it would not row back progress for Afghan women and girls have not been borne out in the last 12 months. In March, the group decided against reopening schools to girls above the sixth grade.

GAC said that "Canada continues to engage with international partners to hold the Taliban to account for its horrific treatment and discrimination of women and girls."

Last year, Canada's then-minister of foreign affairs Marc Garneau said Canada could exert economic leverage over the Taliban, citing international aid earmarked for the country.

WATCH | Afghans urgently need help, says UN co-ordinator

Afghans urgently need help, says UN co-ordinator

2 months ago
Duration 8:26
The world should find ways to get more medicine and food deliveries into Afghanistan, says Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator based in a country where he says people are selling their belongings to survive.

Speaking to The Current on Tuesday, former member of Afghanistan's parliament Fawzia Koofi said the Taliban too was exerting leverage, by weaponizing the rights of women and girls in their quest for international legitimacy.

"They are bargaining our rights for their political interests," said Koofi, who was the country's first female deputy parliamentary speaker.

Sayed Rahman agreed that the issue of girls' education is important, but the humanitarian crisis is "a matter of survival for the Afghan people."

She argued that Afghanistan's population has relied on international aid and funding for years, only to have it suddenly removed in the last 12 months.

"Are we going to let more Afghans die in the meantime while we play our politics?" she said.


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Samira Mohyeddin and Niza Lyapa Nondo.

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