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

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 - image credit)
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 - image credit)

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.

Genevieve Patterson/Radio Canada
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.

Radio 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.

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.

Genevieve Patterson/Radio Canada
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,

Genevieve Patterson/Radio Canada
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.