The Current

Afghan researcher prepares family for new life in Canada after fleeing Taliban

Mohammed Ehsan Saadat had to flee Afghanistan to protect himself and his family from the Taliban, but it was hard to leave his siblings and life behind.

Toronto friends prepare gift baskets for Afghan children, called 'smile boxes'

Mohammed Ehsan Saadat and his family were able to get out of Afghanistan. (Submitted by Mohammed Ehsan Saadat)

Read Story Transcript

Just before Mohammed Ehsan Saadat and his family were going to fly from Kabul to Canada, the secret got out that he was leaving. 

"I called one of my brothers and he started crying and he said, 'You are not a good brother. Why didn't you tell me? I need to hug you, you and your children,'" Saadat told The Current's guest host Anthony Germain.

Saadat, his wife, three daughters, and one son are now living in Kitchener Ont. where he's now looking for permanent housing, after completing a mandatory COVID-19 quarantine in Toronto.

Officials said on Friday that Canada has evacuated approximately 3,700 people, including 2,000 Afghans, following the Taliban's takeover of the country. Saadat left Kabul as part of the evacuations. 

Saadat says he was known to the Taliban because he's a policy researcher, and worked with Canadian-funded NGOs in Kabul.

He said that in 2009 the Taliban shot his older brother, thinking it was Saadat. He said he had to protect himself and his family, specifically his three daughters.

Evacuees wait to board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Aug. 23, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps/Reuters)

He thought about some of his own sisters, who decades ago had university degrees and were ready to enter the workforce. When the Taliban first came into power in the 1990s, their life plans changed against their wishes.

"One of the things that I was thinking about [was] 1996, about my sisters," said Saadat. "All of them became housewives during the Taliban [rule]."

Despite being targeted by the Taliban, he said he enjoyed his life there. But under after the Taliban's new takeover, he felt he was in even greater danger.

"I had a very good salary. I had a fully paid apartment, I had a car. I had carpets, televisions, everything that is in the house, I had everything in Afghanistan," said Saadat. 

But he's ready to start his life in Canada. He's looking forward to his children going to school, and his wife plans to learn English. He's looking for a house and a job.

"I'm thinking positive. I'm optimistic. We have everything now and I have the ability to where I have the knowledge degree to work in Canada," said Saadat. 

He hopes Canada can help more people who are in Afghanistan and want out. 

The Canadian government said Tuesday morning that roughly 1,250 Canadian citizens, permanent residents and family members remain in Afghanistan. Earlier this week, the government urged those left in Afghanistan to stay put while they continue to work to figure out how to help them leave the country.

Helping resettlement

Ashlynn Fisher and her family are making gift baskets for children coming to Canada from Afghanistan. (Submitted by Ashlynn Fisher)

Other families like Saadat's are moving to Canada and starting a new life, and two people are hoping to make it a smooth transition for newcomers.

Ashlynn Fisher and Faryal Anwari, are from the Greater Toronto Area, and have been putting together what they call "Smile Boxes" for children arriving in Canada from Afghanistan.

"These children are in fear. They're worried, they're scared. And at that age, coming to new country, it's like, 'Oh, am I going to go through this again?'" said Anwari, who also moved to Canada from Afghanistan as a child.

Her family left Afghanistan because of the fighting there at the time. She said when she thinks about children coming to Canada now, it reminds her of hiding in a basement while rockets soared overhead. 

Some of the gift baskets Ashlynn Fisher and Faryal Anwari assembled, including toys, crafts and crayons, to raise the spirits of children who have just made a very difficult move. (Submitted by Ashlynn Fisher)

"We wanted to do something to give the children something every child deserves, which is happiness," said Fisher, whose husband is originally from Afghanistan.

The boxes, which ended up becoming baskets because there was so much to give, include crafts, stickers, colouring books, stuffed animals and toys.

"We're hoping to plant that seed in their mind that when you see someone who's going through a difficult time, you can reach out to them and no matter what kind of gesture, just to make them feel welcome, to make them feel safe," said Fisher.

Written by Philip Drost with files from CBC News. Produced by Alison Masemann.

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