'Their life is in limbo': Edmonton woman fears for safety of Afghan family waiting in Tajikistan

·3 min read
Naik Arbabzada says her Afghan family is stuck in limbo in Tajikistan waiting to come to Canada.  (Submitted by Naik Arbabzada - image credit)
Naik Arbabzada says her Afghan family is stuck in limbo in Tajikistan waiting to come to Canada. (Submitted by Naik Arbabzada - image credit)

More than one year after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, an Edmonton woman is still waiting to reunite with her family.

As American troops began pulling out of Afghanistan last summer, Naik Arbabzada came to Edmonton.

Now, she says her sister, brother-in-law, and six nieces and nephews are stuck in Tajikistan waiting to come to Canada.

Arbabzada said they fled after her brother-in-law received a threatening phone call from an unknown person stating he would face consequences for working with a foreign government.

However, once they reached Tajikistan, the government was not giving out UN refugee status cards, meaning they would have to stay in the country as asylum seekers, she said.

"They can't work, they can't really do anything. Their life is in limbo. They're just literally waiting to be able to start a life in Canada," Arbabzada told CBC.

Arbabzada said she reached out to the Canadian government and after some time, was able to waive the refugee status criteria in order to fast-track her family's arrival to Canada.

"There is turmoil in Afghanistan, everyone knows what's happening there and all of these people that are fleeing Afghanistan are refugees."

But Arbabzada said Canada would not be able to get a flight for her family until late October or early November. However, their Tajik asylum cards are set to expire on Oct. 5 and that puts the family in a difficult position.

"If they go to the Tajik government to ask for an extension of their asylum card, there is a significant risk of not only being denied the extension, but actually being taken from there and driven across the border," Arbabzada explained.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported last month that Tajikistan is continuously detaining and deporting Afghan refugees, putting their lives at risk.

"We are asking Tajikistan to stop detaining and deporting refugees, an action that clearly puts lives at risk," said Elizabeth Tan, UNHCR's director of international protection said in a statement online. "Forced return of refugees is against the law and runs contrary to the principle of non-refoulement, a cornerstone of international refugee law."

Ebrahim Noroozi/The Associated Press
Ebrahim Noroozi/The Associated Press

A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in a statement the department is concerned about Tajikistan deporting Afghans but each country sets its own entry and exit requirements, making it challenging to charter flights in certain regions.

"For each person and family wanting to travel, we must consider whether they have the right documents and the ability to do so. We continue to work individually with each person and group to verify they have the necessary documents," the statement read.

Arbabzada said her family members have all their documents and she believes Afghan refugees are being treated unfairly compared to those who have fled Syria and Ukraine.

"Afghans are being treated differently and there's all this red tape and hurdles and the Canadian government is able to expedite these things, they've done it before and they're not doing it. I think that's a big shame," Arbabzada said.

Arbabzada said she sympathizes with everyone who has experienced being a refugee, and hopes the Canadian government works to improve the process for Afghans.

"I think this is a time to improve the system so that people are not suffering, people's lives are not in danger and people who've been approved to come to Canada can. They should be able to get here without having their lives put in danger."