Members of Calgary's Afghan community to rally for more aid as organizations mobilize to help refugees

·4 min read
Hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Desperate crowds have been trying to flee the country, now under Taliban rule.  (The Associated Press - image credit)
Hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Desperate crowds have been trying to flee the country, now under Taliban rule. (The Associated Press - image credit)

Members of Calgary's Afghan community have planned a demonstration at City Hall on Thursday to emphasize their opposition to the Taliban and ask governments for additional aid as local organizations mobilize to help refugees.

Evacuations from the Kabul International Airport are ongoing as Afghans flee the return of the Taliban. The Government of Canada said Wednesday it has successfully completed nine evacuation flights into the country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed to resettle 20,000 more refugees from Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

But according to Husna Alibik, the Canadian government needs to take further action to support Afghan civilians, including vulnerable minorities, women and children.

She is with a volunteer-based group called YYC Afghanistan that is helping to organize Thursday's demonstration downtown.

"I know, as of right now, Canada has issued 20,000 visas … but that is not enough," Alibik said.

"What we are hoping is at least for our government to take initiative and take our families and our people out of Afghanistan and give them refuge.

"There is no other way for us to be able to help, and to be able to get our families out."

'That is heartbreaking'

Alibik said she witnessed the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in 1996. She was in Grade 1, and describes the experience as one she would hope no other child has to endure.

Since 2005, Canada has been her home, and having basic human rights is a dream that Afghan women and children need to experience, Alibik said.

WATCH | Afghan living in Canada says female relatives hiding from Taliban:

Under the Taliban, such things are impossible.

"The Taliban are an extremist group who use religion for the purpose of political gain, and they are saying now that they have changed, that they are 'more modern.' But really, they are not," Alibik said.

"Afghanistan, right now, is [like] a school with a shooting inside it, and the villains are inside that school.

"And when you think about it, that is heartbreaking."

Trying to get vulnerable minorities out of Kabul

Meanwhile, the Calgary-based Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation is trying to get hundreds of vulnerable people out of Kabul.

"We are in touch with the families that are currently in Afghanistan that need the most immediate attention," Tarjinder Bhullar, one of the directors of the foundation, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday.

"The situation changes kind of day by day, hour by hour. They are trying their best to effectively stay under the radar and not become a target."

CBC
CBC

The foundation is named after Tarjinder's late brother, former provincial Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Manmeet Singh Bhullar.

He was killed when a tractor trailer hit him in November 2015 as he tried to help a stranded motorist.

Months earlier, Manmeet had heard about the persecution of religious minorities in Afghanistan — primarily Sikhs and Hindus, Tarjinder said.

"[Manmeet] started work in order to find a way for them to leave Afghanistan safely and avoid the daily challenges that they had," she said.

"He made up his mind and said, 'This is going to be my most important work, and I need to find a solution.' And so, the months leading up to his passing, this is what he was focused on."

'Not only survive but hopefully thrive'

In 2019, the foundation was established in his memory. It reports that to date, it has helped 20 families make their way to Canada.

Now, Tarjinder said the foundation is trying to facilitate the evacuation of 300 vulnerable people often targeted by the Taliban.

CBC
CBC

To keep them safe, she is reluctant to share specific details about them, or their plans to leave.

However, Tarjinder said that even with the airport in Kabul limited to military flights, there is still hope that those the foundation is supporting could make it on to one of the flights.

"We continue to counsel them as best we can in terms of reminding them that the government has made this commitment, that we are actively in touch with the government," Tarjinder said.

"We just ... [have] been reminding them that they do have people halfway around the world that are worried about them, and that are working to find them a way to not only survive but hopefully thrive."

Other Calgary organizations help

Staff at the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society told CBC News they are planning for the arrival of those bound for Alberta.

CEO Fariborz Birjandian said he expects about 2,000 refugees will end up in the province, with nearly half likely to settle in Calgary.

"We are going to be asking Canadians to step up to sponsor if they want to," Birjandian said.

With files from Rick Donkers, Lucie Edwardson and the Calgary Eyeopener.

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