She fled to Canada after her Taliban-connected husband shot her in the face. Now her family needs protection

·3 min read
Shakila Zareen and her mother Sharman. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC - image credit)
Shakila Zareen and her mother Sharman. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC - image credit)

Shakila Zareen has not led an easy life.

The 25-year-old was 16 when her brother-in-law forced her to marry a man many years older. She was beaten and raped — abuse, she says, that started on her wedding night and continued for months.

In 2013, when she complained to the Afghan police, her husband found out and shot her in the face. He spent four months in jail.

In 2018, she came to Canada as a refugee.

Despite all of it, Zareen says the helplessness she's feeling now while much of her family is stuck in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is worse.

She's begging the Canadian government for help, both for her family and other Afghans who are in hiding in her home country.

"All my speeches against the Taliban, my condemnation of the Taliban publicly put them [her family] in grave danger right now," said Zareen.

"I'm shaking every day, every moment, fearing that the Taliban will capture my family members and they will kill them."

Zareen is one of the many Afghans in Canada asking for help while anxiously watching the crisis in Afghanistan grow.

On Thursday, the Canadian government announced its airlift mission in Afghanistan had ended. Zareen hopes it will reconsider as thousands, including her family, have been left behind.

Within four months of President Biden's announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from Afghanistan, the Taliban swept through the country, eventually capturing the capital city of Kabul as Afghan government officials fled the country.

Also on Thursday, two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul's airport. At least 60 Afghans and 12 U.S. troops were killed, according to U.S. officials. The Pentagon says the explosion at the airport was the result of a complex attack.

Tina Lovgreen/CBC
Tina Lovgreen/CBC

Fear and helplessness

After continued death threats while recovering from her gunshot wounds, Zareen applied for help from other countries. The U.S. and Sweden denied her request, but Canada accepted.

She moved to Vancouver with her mother and sister but three of her siblings, as well as her extended family, still live in Afghanistan.

"I'm shaking every day, every moment, fearing that the Taliban will capture my family members and they will kill them."

Zareen has been a vocal advocate for women's and human rights and a harsh critic of the Taliban regime. She has more than 30,000 subscribers on TikTok and she says she's terrified that her advocacy has put a target on her family.

As well, her brother served in the Afghan National Army. Zareen says he has already received a message from the Taliban saying, "if we catch you, we will kill you."

The helplessness is overwhelming, she says, both for her and her mother.

"We can't even sleep at night. We can't even relax or stay calm."

A plea for help

In the wake of the crisis in Afghanistan, Canada announced it would resettle up to 20,000 Afghan nationals.

Zareen's family applied, but she says they received no response.

"Nobody answered. Right now, the solution is to get my family somewhere safe," she said.

Tina Lovgreen/CBC
Tina Lovgreen/CBC

As of Thursday, Canada's airlift mission ended.

The Department of National Defence said it was able to evacuate more than 3,700 people from Kabul. It's unclear how many Canadians and people who applied to come to Canada remain stranded. Officials say they received applications representing 8,000 people and two-thirds of the applications have been processed.

Along with her family, there are many other Afghans in Afghanistan who still require foreign aid.

"There are so many good Afghan citizens who did a tremendous job in the city who are the human rights defenders. They offered gender equality. They all need to be rescued."

Moving to Canada gave Zareen a new life. She's pleading that the same opportunity can be offered to others.

"I never complained, but now I am begging the Canadian government, including the prime minister, to support my family, to help my family," she said,

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