'My nation is burning': Halifax community urge Canada to do more for Afghanistan

With less than one week left until the evacuation deadline set by the Taliban, some Afghans in Halifax are calling on Canada to do more to help those left behind, especially women and marginalized ethnic groups.

Countries across the world have been scrambling to get people out of Afghanistan after the country was overtaken by the Taliban in mid-August. Priority has been given in most cases to foreign nationals and Afghans who previously worked with foreign governments. Canada has airlifted 2,700 people to safety so far.

About 50 people gathered in the Peace and Friendship Park in downtown Halifax Wednesday afternoon to show solidarity and raise awareness of the dire situation and human rights violations in Afghanistan.

The crowd broke into chants demanding freedom for the country as they marched to Province House and City Hall.

“It's very hard, you know, being on this side of the world. What I can do is limited,” said Roya Alimadad, one of the organizers and a nursing student in Halifax.

But educating those around her about what’s happening in Afghanistan helps her feel that she’s making a difference, she said.

While she is safe in Halifax, her family in Kabul and Herat are in hiding. Alimadad and her family belong to the Hazara community, one of Afghanistan’s minority ethnic groups. The Hazara practise Shia Islam and have faced historical persecution and discrimination in the country.

Amnesty International said in a report released last week that the Taliban killed and tortured several Hazara men in Ghanzi province in early July. Amnesty’s secretary general Agnès Callamard said the “targeted killings are proof that ethnic and religious minorities remain at particular risk under Taliban rule in Afghanistan.”

Alimadad said Hazaras have also been blocked from reaching the airport.

“Now that (the Taliban) have full control, Hazaras are very scared of what the Taliban is going to do to them.”

Alimadad said she hoped Wednesday’s protest will urge the government to bring more refugees, especially woman and children. Canada had vowed to resettle 20,000 Afghans in mid-August.

Mujeeb Ur Rehman, who was at the protest, has been trying to reach his friends in Afghanistan for days but his attempts so far have failed.

Between worrying they might have gone missing and hoping they are in hiding, Ur Rehman’s anxiety has reached new heights.

While medication and rest sometimes help him relax, nothing can soothe the pain he feels as he watches 20 years of rebuilding and reform in Afghanistan turn to nothing.

“I feel burning, burning because my country is burning, my nation is burning,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

“It’s like a dark night. No one knows what happened and what will happen tomorrow.”

While Ur Rehman supports and appreciates the international community’s efforts to evacuate Afghans, he said relocating people is not the only option.

“We request that Canada, the U.S. and other countries to pressurize the Taliban and their main supporters … to change their policies,” he said.

“Don't kill people. Let women to continue their education, let women work … allow journalists freedom of speech, freedom of religion.”

Before coming to Canada, Ur Rehman was a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Pakistan. He said his reporting on terror, war, and the relationship between the Taliban and Pakistan put his life in danger multiple times, eventually leaving him no choice but to immigrate with his family to Nova Scotia in 2013.

Life in Canada was a challenge for Ur Rehman as he couldn’t find a job in his field. But he is happy to see his daughters get a good education, a right they couldn’t have had if they were now in Afghanistan.

“It was not easy to adjust myself here, but if you have a family, if you have children, you need to sacrifice yourself for their future.”

Nebal Snan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle Herald

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